The ‘Made in China 2025’ plan, outlining financial support to boost high tech and innovation, shows us that the country has big ambitions, and as quoted in an article by the ABC in Australia recently, ‘areas such as robotics, autonomous and electric cars, artificial intelligence, biotech and aviation will be subsidised, handed low-interest loans, rent-free land and tax breaks to become world beaters.’ It’s really happening and it’s coming to an industry near you.
So, while the investment strategy is clear, and we see the potential in China’s growing engineering capacity and ability to innovate and produce inspiring and leading technology, what of the required skills and expertise to really compete at the high end of industry? Can China meet its own ambitions with its own massive workforce or is there an opportunity to ‘lend a hand’? There are no doubt dependencies on skills abroad to design, build and innovate if they are to create high tech for a global market.
In November, Ford announced it is partnering with Chinese automaker Zotye to build electric cars in China. The benefits for Ford are undoubtedly in the potential to take a share of a growing car market in China, but looking at it through the lense of Zotye, the benefits lie not in the Ford brand name, given the cars under the joint venture are to be sold under a new brand name, but in the global experience of Ford, it’s design history, it’s ‘smarts’ in the knowledge and application of new technologies, especially around electric vehicles and their batteries. The example here is one that demonstrates the joint benefits of collaboration, of working into China and its growth potential, and in China reaching outward to leverage global expertise.
Practically speaking, the basics of understanding global requirements can be difficult and requires the perspective of experience and global insight. There are no doubt challenges in collaborating across cultures, and not just in language and working styles, which can be overcome relatively easily. It is also a question of being able to test that an idea or design actually makes sense internationally. Finding the experts that can collaborate on new projects and missions in China is both an opportunity and a challenge.
The benefits of collaboration, of learning from experience, leveraging leading research in other countries, of being part of a wider network who have ‘been there, and done that’, are key for China in order for it to meet its ambitions in taking a sizeable share of global high tech markets. The Chinese proverb ‘a single conversation across the table with a wise man is worth ten year's study of books’ talks to the value of connections, experience and relationships, how Chinese industry can and must work with partners globally to leverage high end skills and gain insight from industry experience and to inspire new ideas for innovation. We should all reach out and lend a hand.