One of China’s top trade negotiators with the United States has called for international collaboration on robotics, a key part of the country’s plan to lead the world in the technology of the future.
At the World Robot Conference in Beijing on Wednesday, Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He said that while China had made advances in the technology, it was still a fair way behind the world’s best.
In the address, Liu’s first public speech since taking the lead on science and technology policymaking in China’s cabinet, the vice-premier avoided all mention of “Made in China 2025”, China’s industry master plan that has been targeted by US President Donald Trump.
Instead, he stressed the need for concerted joint efforts in robotics.
“We live in a new era. Many challenges cannot be solved by a single company or a country on its own. The challenges facing humanity are much bigger than our differences and conflicts. For instance, robotic development raises many new questions that we need to solve together,” Liu said.
Liu said China would actively pursue development of the robotics industry by opening up to the outside world, welcoming foreign investment, and standing firmly to protect the legal rights of foreign companies in China.
He said that given the robotics industry was still at an early stage of development, China would provide more space for entrepreneurs and scientists to explore and think freely while creating a fair and competitive market environment.
Liu’s speech also came after the leadership wrapped up its annual informal retreat in the northern coastal resort town of Beidaihe to discuss major domestic issues.
According to plans published last year, China aims to have a full supply chain of robotic production in 2025, with domestically developed industrial robots serving 70 per cent of the Chinese market and service robots in mass production.
China made more than 130,000 industrial robots in 2017, up about 68 per cent from a year earlier. Beijing expects sales of industrial robots to reach 200,000 in 2020 and 300,000 in 2025.
Without specifying, Liu said robots brought convenience but they also raised ethical and legal challenges in daily life.
Liu also aimed a thinly veiled barb at Trump’s trade protectionism.
“Different political systems and countries can be mutually inclusive, understand and respect each other, and choose cooperation instead of damaging unilateralism. We should join hands to solve problems and build a community of a shared destiny,” he said.
Last week, the State Council, China’s cabinet, reorganised a high-level policy group on science and technology in an attempt to better regulate and provide more support for the sector. Liu, one of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s most trusted advisers, was appointed deputy director under Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to lead the team.
The first World Robot Conference was held in 2015, a year after Xi told the country’s top scientists that robots were “the crown jewels of manufacturing”.
The conference is organised by the Beijing municipal government, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, and the China Association for Science and Technology.
This article Join forces with China for a new robotics future, Vice-Premier Liu He says first appeared on South China Morning Post