Date
24 July 2017
Industrial robots are used for welding vehicle sections at an automobile factory. Internet Plus needs a more comprehensive approach in order to succeed. Photo: Xinhua
Industrial robots are used for welding vehicle sections at an automobile factory. Internet Plus needs a more comprehensive approach in order to succeed. Photo: Xinhua

Something doesn’t add up in China’s Internet Plus

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang is expecting Internet Plus to bring the disruptive innovations in consumer services to industrial production, ultimately leading to higher productivity and a stronger economy.

Guangdong province launched its own plan after the State Council released guidelines for the initiative, China’s latest effort to build economic growth on its internet resources.

It calls for the integration of Guangdong’s internet technologies and resources with 13 sectors including advanced manufacturing.

Obviously, local authorities are betting on the initiative to upgrade its economy.

Disruptive technology such as big data and the so-called “industrial 4.0” concept are promising and can add value.

But it’s naive to think that simply linking optical fibers with industrial robots will create the magical power to upgrade the whole industrial sector and make China as advanced as the United States or Europe in manufacturing.

Many experts have made this mistaken assumption.

The focus is on information technology to improve product development and design but the real trouble in China is the lack of research and development capability.

Many Chinese manufacturers are stumbling along the production chain. 

Guangdong knows Internet Plus can’t replace innovation itself, so we shouldn’t expect too much in the way of results.

It is possible that the plan will be bent out of shape during its implementation.

We have yet to see officials succeed in marrying technology to manufacturing capability.

Internet Plus can improve manufactures’ product design and development ability but it can’t create ability from nothing.

To gain international competitiveness, officials should solve the root cause of China’s industrial problems by encouraging companies to put more effort into developing new products.

Experience gained during the development process is invaluable.

It does not mean, however, that initiatives such as Internet Plus, smart manufacturing and robotics to replace human labor are not important.

But there has been no action to ensure enterprises are engaged in new product development.

Nonetheless, we remain positive that Guangdong will continue to be a pillar in the domestic manufacturing industry, judging by its deeper understanding of the new policy.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov. 24.

Translation by Myssie You

[Chinese version中文版]

– Contact us at english@hkej.com

MY/DY/RA

Deputy researcher at China Business Centre of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University

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