Why China won’t own next-generation manufacturing

Aug 29, 2016

After three decades of dramatic growth, China’s manufacturing engine has largely stalled. With rising salaries, labor unrest, environmental devastation and intellectual property theft, China is no longer an attractive place for Western companies to move their manufacturing. Technology has also eliminated the labor cost advantage, so companies are looking for ways to bring their high-value manufacturing back to the United States and Europe.

China is well aware that it has lost its advantage, and its leaders want to use the same technologies that have leveled the playing field to give the country a new strategic edge. In May 2015, China launched a 10-year plan, called Made in China 2025, to modernize its factories with advanced manufacturing technologies, such as robotics, 3-D printing and the Industrial Internet. And then, in July 2015, it launched another national plan, called Internet Plus, “to integrate mobile Internet, cloud computing, big data and the Internet of Things with modern manufacturing.”

China has made this a national priority and is making massive investments. Just one province, Guangdong, committed to spending $150 billion to equip its factories with industrial robots and create two centers dedicated to advanced automation. But no matter how much money it spends, China simply can’t win with next-generation manufacturing. It built its dominance in manufacturing by offering massive subsidies, cheap labor and lax regulations. With technologies such as robotics and 3-D printing, it has no edge.

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