China is on a mission to become the world’s leading robot manufacturer and to overtake Japan, Germany and the United States.
China is already the number one market for sales of industrial robots. Between 2010 and 2015, the country installed 90,000 industrial robots, compared to 80,000 created by the US, Europe and the rest of Asia combined over the same period.
China’s heavy investment into robotics is essential in order for it to realize its long-term goal of becoming a world leader in high-tech set out in the government-backed “Made in China 2025 plan”. By 2020, the country aims to be producing 100,000 industrial robots annually.
“The Chinese are the fastest-growing and largest user of robotics in the world by now,” Jeff Burnstein, president of Michigan-based Robotic Industries Association told CNBC in September. “The 2025 plan will only accelerate it.”
While the US is currently the world leader in terms of automation, it will need to up its game in order to compete with China’s pace of investment and growth in robots. The situation persuaded Mark Cuban, entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner, to pen an open letter to President Trump back in December 2016, urging him to invest $100 billion in the technology in order to win the robotics race. “We are not even close right now,” he wrote.
However, some experts believe China’s focus on quantity over quality makes the country less threatening to other global powers. “China can manufacture simple robots but nothing complicated,” said China analyst Zi Yang from Washington, DC based Jamestown Foundation. He cited China’s weak intellectual property laws and government priorities as factors impeding innovation.