Made in China for the better
China wants to transform from the world’s factory to its laboratory. And it already reached some impressive results.
At the CES in Las Vegas last month, the first drone capable of transporting passengers presented by the Chinese manufacturer Ehang was among the most remarkable products. It’s another illustration of the new ambitions of the Middle Kingdom. After decades in the shadows of the Western and Japanese industry the Chinese producers intend to develop high-technology on their own.
This new doctrine coming from the highest ranks of the government aims at making up for decades of lateness in the R&D sector because of an oversized industry and colossal subsidies. Fundamental research is set aside in favour of experimental development. The objective is not to go and play on the courts of Harvard or Oxford: Concrete results are needed to improve the image of the country and to emancipate from the technological dependence from the Occident. Western technology still represents 60% of the production and Beijing wants to halve this proportion in the medium term.
The extraordinary governmental financial aid has already led to a 20% increase in the budget allocated to research by the companies between 2003 and 2015. China wants to join the ranks of the giants of innovation and provides considerable funds for certain highly mediatised projects in key sectors (green energy, biotechnology, information technology...).
A mess of recordsChina emphasizes a handful of spectacular success stories in order to hide the technological backwardness of its industry, just like the Soviet Union used to do. The TIanhe-2 supercomputer is the most powerful in the world with a computing power that is almost two times higher than that of its American concurrent. The Jialong submarine is the first submersible capable of reaching depths of 7000 metres. Even more symbolic are the Chang’e space-probe and its rolling robot Yutu, which were the first machines on the moon in 1976 and who brought back photos of an exceptional quality.
Apart from these projects meant to impress across the Chinese borders, the governmental financial aid has enables certain companies to gain ground among the heavyweights of high-tech. The Lenovo IT company has replaced Hewlett-Packard as the worldwide market leader and commercialises computer which have gradually lost their low-cost image. The same is true for Huawei which has rapidly entered the highly competitive smartphone market.
For the Comac airframe manufacturer which has been founded in 2008 there is still some way to go to challenge Airbus and Boeing. But it already sells the C919, a medium-haul model, and has received 517 orders with Ryanair among the potential clients.