By Chen Qingqing, Global Times
Unilateral protectionism adopted by the US could open up new windows for Chinese robot companies to collaborate more closely with their European counterparts to advance technology and boost the economy, industry experts said on Thursday.
China attaches great importance to robots, Xin Guobin, vice minister of China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, told the World Robot Conference 2018 in Beijing, which runs from Wednesday to Saturday.
“We welcome foreign robotic companies to invest in the country and encourage domestic firms to establish research and development centers overseas,” he said.
The market scale of China’s robotic industry is expected to reach $8.74 billion in 2018, following an average annual growth rate of 29.7 percent in past five years, according to a report released by MIIT on Thursday.
Robotics research is advancing rapidly in China, which is good for the development of the country internally and also globally, said Richard Voyles, head of the Collaborative Robotics Lab at US-based Purdue University.
“General advances in science are shared regularly and are good for all of us, just from a general knowledge perspective and for the advancement of the field,” he told the Global Times.
China has seen a marked increase in robot density, with the rate rising from 25 units per 10,000 employees in 2013 to 68 units in 2016, according to a report released by the International Federation of Robotics in February. The level of 68 units per 10,000 employees placed China second in the robot density rankings behind the UK.
The US increasingly regards China as a rival in science and technological development, and with its Section 301 probe, the US Trade Representative (USTR) has taken aim at China’s industrial plans, such as Made in China 2025. China’s industrial robots have also been included in US tariffs list.
SIASUN Robot Automation Co, a major industrial robot manufacturer based in Shenyang, Northeast China’s Liaoning Province, exports its products to over 32 countries and regions across Europe and North America. “For the moment, the ongoing trade tension is having little impact on our business,” Qu Daokui, CEO of SIASUN, told the Global Times.
No country can have a full supply chain without interacting with other nations, Qu noted. “I believe the trade tension won’t have a huge impact on our business, as the company has entered over 30 countries and regions,” he said, noting that the future is about creating valuable synergies and enhancing global cooperation.
China is the largest market for industrial robot application, according to the MIIT report, accounting for one-third of the global market.
Also, the unilateral stance adopted by the US could create more room for Chinese companies to collaborate with their European counterparts.
“China is the biggest robot market in the world, and that’s so interesting for all the robotic companies here,” Rainer Bischoff, vice president of Brussels-based EU Robotics, told the Global Times.
Bischoff noted that what is happening right now will lead to more cooperation around the US, but perhaps not with the US. “So this also means that there will be more cooperation between Europe and China,” said Bischoff, who is also head of corporate research at German robotic manufacturer KUKA.
Voyles, who served at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy under the Obama administration, said that technology makes the world smaller and that cooperation is gradually increasing, despite “occasional tensions that arise.”