Can ‘Made In China 2025’ Turn The Innovation Wheel Towards China?

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Shanghai China

With the ‘Made in China 2025’ proposal, China is hoping to generate an innovative boost in its manufacturing industry with the aim to promote quality home-built products to the world. Originally introduced in 2015, Made in China 2025 is giving China 10 years to redress its IT and technology industry and implement innovative programs to develop its knowledge and industry accordingly. The goals are to increase the domestic and international content of core materials in high-tech to 40% by 2020 and then a whopping 70% by 2025. Opinions are still divided as to the feasibility of Made in China 2025, especially as foreign content represents more than half of all high-tech goods. At the moment, it doesn’t seem that China will be able to meet its goals. But the Chinese government is creating innovation centers to support its industrial development and approach the production of high-end equipment. Smart manufacturing, cloud computing, smart equipment that works almost without human interactions and the pursuit of innovative technologies are being encouraged throughout the country as a way to tackle the domestic deficit in high-tech production. Could China become a leader in the innovative and skilled industries?

China, formerly known as the kingdom of cheap unskilled labor

It’s difficult not to associate China with cheap products, and consequently inexpensive and unskilled labor. In the fashion industry, made in China may not always be synonymous with quality, but it certainly means that you get a damn cheap frock and sometimes that’s just what you want. The only way that bigger brands have found to tackle the competitive challenge of cheap labor is to promote quality, fair wages and innovative fashion technology to justify the price of their products. However, customers who research a bargain still turn to Chinese products. With its reputation for being the largest cheap labor factory in the world, China’s cheap products from unskilled labor are hard to beat if you’re price-conscious. With low wages and high productivity, China holds the place of an advanced capitalist – if not despotic – economy in the world market.

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In other words, China has a major labor reorganization to address to become a competitive and innovative economy. Domestic skills don’t come for free.

China is changing its stance about skilled labor and innovation

It’s because they understand the importance of moving from an economy that relies primarily on unskilled labor to an economy that is built on the innovation of educated labor, that the Chinese government is trying to improve vocational education. It comes as no surprise that China has been struggling with a shortage of skilled labor for several years as a  five-year plan for the increase of training and recruitment of highly skilled workers by improving the competitiveness of vocational schools. With the government’s support, this five-year plan is also trying to address the Chinese mindset that has been trained to reject education in favor of cheap labor, aka the guarantee of immediate wage as opposed to the prospect of studying first and earning later. With almost 98% of employment rate for skilled workers, it’s easy to see the value of educated vs. unskilled labor. However, vocational studies delay the entry to the professional world and make it more difficult for the Chinese population to cope with everyday costs.

Nevertheless, those who are educated, are already driving an innovative spike through the Chinese manufacture industries.

World’s largest solar power plant

China’s province Anhui holds the world’s largest floating solar power plants, built on top of a flooded coal mining area. In fact, the floating solar power plant combined with the Longyangxia Dam Solar Park, a 10-square-mile land-based plant that is said to be the largest on the planet, has generated an increase of 80% of China’s solar power output at the beginning of 2017. From January to March 2017, the overall solar power generation reached 21.4 billion kilowatt-hours more than the previous year. For comparison purposes, a town of 1 million inhabitants needs 10 million kWh a year, so the increase only is enough to supply a small country. More surprisingly, the whopping boost in solar power comes as several solar plants have been standing idle because of issues with congested transmission infrastructure. At a time where renewables are becoming hugely precious, it’s easy to measure the Chinese competitiveness on the energy market.

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Fast and effective 3D printing sector

One 3D printing manufacturer embraced the need for environmentally-friendly structures and policies and decided to perfect a new printing system that will change the Chinese take on poverty. WinSun Decoration Design Engineering Co built in a day a village of 10 houses using a customized 3D printed to print concrete parts out of recycled waste. The test village was built in Shanghai, using a hefty printer – 150 meter long, 10 meter wide and 6 meter deep – to print concrete constituents, and cement reinforced with glass fiber. Naturally, the houses didn’t pop out all assembled. The printer was set on creating separate parts that were then transported and assembled by people. This amazing experience could present a new possibility for the Chinese government to bring safe and hygienic houses in poverty-stricken regions of China. As this gigantic project progresses the need for high-quality 3D software and reliable 3D printer motors by domestic manufacturers – Moons is one of those high-end tech manufacturers that provide the relevant motorized parts for 3D printers – will increase. In a challenge at human scale, China has proven that innovation for the people is the best kind of innovation. Market competitiveness and economic power have been rejected for the sake of the less privileged part of the Chinese population.

The infamous transit elevated bus

It’s difficult to talk about Chinese innovation without mentioning the elevated bus that has kept the world in suspense. The bus that was designed to drive over the top of cars and that was planned to for testing over a 300 meters track along a roadway was unfortunately ruled out as a scam by the Chinese authorities. At first, it was financial difficulties followed by strange setbacks. But the Beijing police recently announced that they’re trying to recover the funds for each investor. While this sounds like an innovative failure, the transit elevated bus suggests a practical and creative solution to traffic problems. It’s likely that we’ll hear about it again in future, from a serious high-tech firm that wants to make a difference.

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Communication with space

The Quantum Experiments at Space Scape is a research project in quantum physic. Based in China, the project is of international importance and has recently proven the ability to communicate from space using quantum photons. In what can only be described as a big leap for science, China’s quantum satellite has successfully distributed entangled photons between different base stations on Earth – with as much as 1,200 kilometers between them on the ground. While in theory entangled photons can remain linked across the distance, this has never been possible across such vast distances, and even less between the Earth and space. Whether this will allow us, in longer terms, to communicate more effectively with the space around the Earth or to reach so far unknown extraterrestrial civilizations is unknown. But it makes no doubt that this small step for the entangled photons is a giant step for science!

Made in China 2025 is a big claim. But the constant innovation that is changing the Chinese industries offers the possibility that maybe in the near future the world could rely on China for our renewable energy, 3D print technology, transport solutions and spatial explorations. Think big, or 不撒大网不得大鱼, as they say in China (bu sa da wang bu de da yu): Without casting a big net, you can’t catch a big fish.

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Student @ Advanced Digital Sciences Center, Singapore. Travelled to 30+ countries, passion for basketball.