Will CIIE be the big­gest class­room in China?

Shanghai Daily - - CIIE -

Ev­ery­one has his or her own rea­son to fol­low the news from the China In­ter­na­tional Im­port Expo (CIIE). My in­ter­est in the event is less as a re­porter than as a self-styled geek look­ing to ex­plore the lat­est gad­gets and giz­mos from around the world.

While many will pre­dictably be drawn to what are now com­mon­place items like food, cos­met­ics and jew­elry, I, for one, am hooked on smart man­u­fac­tur­ing.

Over­seas com­pa­nies with plans to con­quer the Chi­nese mar­ket ap­pear to have be­come aware of how com­mit­ted the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment is to de­vel­op­ing smart man­u­fac­tur­ing and are mer­rily vy­ing with each other for the big­gest slice of pie they can get their teeth into.

Me­dia re­ports have shown that some of the world’s most pow­er­ful com­pa­nies have sent their best prod­ucts to the expo, and it is not just smart­phones or beau­ti­fully com­pact high-tech.

One Ger­man firm shipped a 200-ton, 2.8-mil­lion-euro (US$2.5 mil­lion) milling ma­chine to the expo in Oc­to­ber. The ma­chine is a phe­nom­e­non. It’s not just its sheer size but an as­ton­ish­ing abil­ity to churn out high-ac­cu­racy mi­cron­per­fect parts for the au­to­mo­bile and aerospace in­dus­tries that has at­tracted at­ten­tion.

One thing we know for sure is that ro­bot­ics are big and get­ting big­ger. One of the world’s big four man­u­fac­tur­ers of in­dus­trial ro­bots, FANUC will be hold­ing noth­ing back. Qian Hui, gen­eral man­ager of the Ja­pa­nese com­pany’s Shang­hai branch, has made it clear the com­pany will be show­ing off the very lat­est de­vel­op­ments, some for the very first time. China’s do­mes­tic con­sump­tion and im­ports of ro­bot­ics (and al­most ev­ery other prod­uct on show at the expo) are likely to ex­pand ex­po­nen­tially in the years ahead and FANUC has ev­ery in­ten­tion of rid­ing the crest of that wave.

It was The Wash­ing­ton Post that ear­lier this year pre­dicted that re­tail sales in China will reach US$5.8 tril­lion this year, equal­ing or sur­pass­ing the United States’. Whether com­pa­nies are sell­ing di­rectly to con­sumers or op­er­at­ing on a B2B (busi­ness-to-busi­ness) ba­sis, the mar­ket is awash with op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Ex­hibitors can take some con­fi­dence from the words of Premier Li Ke­qiang. Meet­ing a busi­ness del­e­ga­tion in March, Li in­vited over­seas firms to join in China’s ef­forts to en­hance its ca­pa­bil­i­ties in sec­tors like aerospace, new en­ergy ve­hi­cles and biotech.

Li dis­missed spec­u­la­tion that the strat­egy is merely a self-serv­ing pro­gram which will make use of out­siders to achieve the ul­ti­mate goal.

China’s poli­cies do not dis­tin­guish be­tween Chi­nese and for­eign com­pa­nies in­volved in this un­der­tak­ing, as long as they are reg­is­tered in China, he re­port­edly told the ex­ec­u­tives.

Nachi, an­other Ja­pa­nese ro­bot­ics com­pany, has been up­front about its am­bi­tion to be part of the re­form of the man­u­fac­tur­ing sec­tor.

“We will be more than hon­ored to be in­cluded in this tran­si­tion,” Liu Xiaobin, head of Nachi’s China op­er­a­tions, told me­dia in Au­gust.

What sets the CIIE apart is its sheer scale. Con­tracts to the tune of bil­lions are ex­pected to be signed dur­ing what is es­sen­tially an ex­tended trade fair.

It is an enor­mous op­por­tu­nity for home­grown tech com­pa­nies to get a taste of the lat­est trends first­hand, and to see where there is room for im­prove­ment or lo­cal­iza­tion, with­out an over­seas jun­ket.

In a sense, the show­rooms at the Na­tional Ex­hi­bi­tion and Con­ven­tion Cen­ter, where the CIIE is held, are class­rooms for for­eign “teach­ers” and their avid Chi­nese “stu­dents.”

Fu­dan Univer­sity’s Kong Aiguo nailed it when he said the CIIE will prompt Chi­nese com­pa­nies to ask them­selves the fol­low­ing ques­tions: Why is the qual­ity of im­ported goods su­pe­rior? What kind of firms make these goods? And what is go­ing on in the ex­ec­u­tives’ heads?

These ques­tions are worth pon­der­ing as China rises up the value chain, play­ing catch-up to man­u­fac­tur­ing pow­er­houses like Ger­many and Ja­pan. For their part, for­eign ex­ec­u­tives at­tend­ing the CIIE will per­haps be sur­prised at how ea­ger their Chi­nese hosts are for in­sights.

Many great in­no­va­tions be­gin as a form of im­i­ta­tion or even bla­tant copy­ing. China has come a long way since the days of cheap knock­offs. Its best com­pa­nies now com­pete with the world’s best, even dom­i­nat­ing a few niche seg­ments.

All this “sud­den” change can be at­trib­uted to the search for ex­cel­lence, as well as hun­dreds of bil­lions of dol­lars pumped into R&D over the years.

The CIIE it­self is tes­ta­ment to China’s un­yield­ing learn­ing spirit that has un­der­girded much of its 5,000-year his­tory and breath­tak­ing growth for the bet­ter part of the past four decades.

Af­ter 40 years of re­form and open­ing up, that spirit is still alive and kick­ing.

Ni TaoEmail: ni­tao@shine.cn

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