China is aiming for half of the industrial robots sold in the country to be made by Chinese companies by 2020, up from 27% currently, and with a target for this to increase to 70% by 2025.
Since 2013, China has become the number one market for industrial robots in the world, with demand expected to increase by 20% in the next two years. To be sure, there is ample scope for an increase in industrial robotics - China has just 36 robots per 10,000 manufacturing workers, compared with 292 in Germany, 314 in Japan and 478 in South Korea.
As part of President Xi’s 2014 call for a domestic “robot revolution” the Chinese government is pouring massive subsidies into the robotics sector in an attempt to woo manufactures who currently prefer to buy from trusted global brands. Moreover, a combination of an ageing population and increased labour costs as incomes rise is predicted to curb the abundance of cheap labour that has sustained the dominance of Chinese manufacturing. The government therefore hopes a rise in cheap domestic robots could herald a new era in Chinese manufacturing, although automation could have serious ramifications for employment as well.
Are we seeing the beginning of the end of the stereotypical image of massive Chinese factories with tens of thousands of workers performing the same monotonous tasks? How will the domestic robots revolution impact the nation’s manufacturing sector and its position in the global market? Does this aspiration reflect a growing trend towards protectionism across the globe?