A Baxter robot of Rethink Robotics picks up a business card as it performs during a display at the World Economic Forum (WEF), in China’s port city Dalian, Liaoning province, China, September 9, 2015.
In a cavernous showroom on the outskirts of this port city in northeastern China, softly whirring lathes and svelte robot arms represent Dalian Machine Tools Group’s (DMTG) vision of an automated future for Chinese manufacturing.
On closer inspection, however, most of the machines’ control panels bear the logos of Japan’s FANUC Corp or the German conglomerate Siemens.
The imported control systems in DMTG’s products – used in the assembly of everything from smartphones to cement trucks – are symbolic of the technology gap between Chinese and foreign industrial automation firms, just one of several challenges facing China’s ambition to nurture a national robotics industry.
Chinese robotics firms are also grappling with a weakening economy and slumping automotive sector, and industry insiders already predict a market bubble just three years after the central government issued policies to spur robotics development.
“Last year everybody thought they could produce a robot,” said Alan Lee, director of Asia sales and business development at Boston-based Rethink Robotics. “When you have market saturation you’ll have filtering and M&A. These guys will be the first layer to suffer.”
It is a storyline familiar from other new industries such as solar panels: Beijing’s policies and subsides trigger a wave of low-margin, low-cost contenders to rush into the market, where, with no meaningful technology of their own, they struggle to compete on price alone.
A year after analysts predicted the unstoppable advance of Chinese robot makers, executives at foreign companies now say they are well-positioned to weather any temporary blip in demand as manufacturers tighten capital investment while waiting to see how China’s economy fares.
To be sure, foreign or domestic executives alike say they believe in China’s commitment to upgrade its manufacturing sector and the potential of the domestic robot industry to grow into a leading force in the long run.
With wages rising as much as 10 percent a year, Chinese policymakers have said they fear labor shortages of as high as 30 percent in some areas and are keen to help automation along.
Chinese-made robots deployed have surged from an estimated 3,000 in 2012, when the central government began introducing automated manufacturing proposals, to 15,000 last year, according to the International Federation of Robotics.
The growth rate for foreign-made robots has been slower, but they still dominate Chinese factory floors, with numbers increasing from 22,000 to 41,000, during the same period.
Subsidies have sparked an explosion in the number of Chinese robotics firms from 200 to around 815 in two years, according to OFWeek, a Chinese robot industry news site and research center.
But at most 30 of those firms have done any meaningful research and development, said Wang Baomin, senior analyst at Shenzhen-based consulting firm MIR Industry.
“Companies that get subsidies through connections are cruising without feeling any competition or fully grasping the technology,” said Wang.
“I’m afraid robots will walk down the path of China’s solar industry, with its market development distorted.”
Xu Wenjiu, an executive at Shenzhen-based robot maker LEN, expects a third of domestic robot firms to collapse within three years because many do not have the ability to offer after-market maintenance for products that break down.
Foreign robot makers are sanguine about the profusion of Chinese rivals – at least for now.
Gu Chunyuan, the China head of Zurich-based ABB Robotics, a leading robotics firm along with the likes of Germany’s Kuka and Japan’s Yaskawa, downplayed the threat of Chinese competition, saying his firm held a significant technological advantage.
The company also ships many “naked” robots to Chinese firms who resell a customized final product to factories.
In Dalian, DTMG’s president, Ma Junqing, acknowledged there was an “obvious gap” between Chinese firms and foreign competitors in robot and automation technology.
But he said his firm, which specializes in automated machine tools, had been making advanced robot arms for only three years and hoped to catch up with Japanese rivals in three years and German competitors within five.
“The complete product chain takes a long time, as does researching technology and developing the market,” said Ma, whose firm has longstanding government links and receives subsidies and loans.
Still, domestic firms like Shanghai Siasun Robot & Automation are seen as making advances in robot technology, while companies like DMTG and rival Shenyang Machine Tool Co are investing to expand beyond traditional machine tools into more sophisticated products.
Rethink Robotics’ founder Rodney Brooks, who has consulted for local Chinese governments, predicted that the champion of Chinese robotics may emerge from an unexpected quarter, given the level of investment and technology required.
He named e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, which has invested in robotics with hardware manufacturer Foxconn and Softbank, as a contender, much like how Amazon Inc has become a major robotics player in the United States.
“It may not be the traditional players but the transformation is still going to happen in China,” Brooks said.
(Reporting by Gerry Shih and Beijing newsroom; Editing by Alex Richardson)
PH, China seek common legal framework to jointly explore South China Sea
(L-R) Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano and China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi
MANILA, Philippines — Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano met with his Chinese counterpart, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Beijing on Wednesday.
During the said meeting, China agreed to prudently advance cooperation with the Philippines on joint oil and gas exploration in the South China Sea.
Wang also hopes to turn the disputed territory into a source of friendship and cooperation.
“The South China Sea controversy will be turned into a source of friendship and cooperation and we will jointly uphold regional peace and stability,” said the Chinese foreign minister.
For his part, Cayetano said he is confident that the countries would find a suitable legal framework on future explorations in the South China Sea.
“The Philippines and China are finding a common legal framework to conduct joint exploration and surveys. And with our discussions today, I’m confident that we will find a suitable legal framework for our two countries,” said Cayetano.
The two countries in February agreed to set up a special panel to work out how they can jointly explore offshore oil and gas in areas both sides claim, without needing to address the touchy issue of sovereignty.
The area is currently under a territorial dispute.
China claims most of the South China Sea, a key trade route and home to areas that are believed to hold large quantities of oil and natural gas. Along with China, parts of the South China Sea are subject to competing claims from Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines. — Victor Cosare | UNTV News & Rescue
DFA finalizes EO on maritime research in Philippine Rise
Benham Rise or the Philippine Rise (UNTV Drone)
MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has not given permission to anyone yet to conduct marine scientific research in any territorial water of the Philippines.
This is while DFA is studying the process of approving application of other countries to conduct scientific research in Philippine territory.
Before the year ends, the DFA will submit a proposed executive order to President Rodrigo Duterte that contains the policy of allowing other nations to conduct research in Philippine territorial waters.
The foreign affairs department said it has filed before the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) Sub-Committee on Undersea Features Names (SCUFN) its opposition to China’s move of naming the underwater features of the Philippine Rise last February.
“We have already conveyed to SCUFN through our embassy in Paris our objection and non-recognition of the names,” said DFA Asec. Lourdes Yparraguirre.
But some maritime law experts believe it is already too late.
“The question is, which name came first. That’s number one and which name was it already well known,” said Atty. Neil Silva of UP Institute of Maritime Affairs & Law of the Sea.
Some senators see nothing wrong with the move of the DFA as long as the claim of the Philippines in the Benham Rise is concerned.
“Pagdating sa soberenya, walang nakikitang problema na itoy pinangalanan sa ibang pangalan,” said Senate Committee on Economic Affairs chair Senator Sherwin Gatchalian.
(In terms of sovereignty, we see nothing wrong with DFA’s move to name it.)
The senator said the government is already speeding up the process of providing names to five underwater features of the Philippines Rise that China initially named.
“We said we recommend to the President to change the name of the five underwater features. But with the IHO, that will take time. The timetable of the NAMRIA (National Mapping and Resource Information Authority) is until September,” said Gatchalian. — Nel Maribojoc | UNTV News & Rescue
China, among least trusted countries by Filipinos
FILE PHOTO: A child holds national flags of China and the Philippines before President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte and China’s President Xi Jinping attend a welcoming ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, October 20, 2016. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
MANILA, Philippines — On the latest survey of the Social Weather Stations (SWS), Filipinos still trust the United States of America the most.
And even if China and Philippine governments have better relations now compared to the past, Filipinos still do not have much trust in the former.
China only has seven percent net trust compared to 68 percent of America, 55 percent of Canada and 54 percent of Japan.
Malacañang explained that it is only recently during the Duterte administration that the dealing between China and the Philippines become better that is why Filipinos do not have full trust on China yet.
“Siguro bigyan natin ng pagkakataon ang mga Tsino. Sabi nila, magpapadala sila ng napakaraming turista. Sabi nila magpapadala sila ng napakaraming kapital at negosyo,” said Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque.
(Maybe let’s give China a chance. They say they will send many tourists, investors and businesses.)
However, Roque said that China must fulfill their promises so that the Filipinos will begin to trust them more.
“Kung di tayo magkakagulo dahil sa West Philippine Sea, kung sila ay tutupad sa kanilang pangako na di na sila magkakaroon ng bagong reklamasyon at di na sila magtatayo ng bagong artificial islands. So like all relationships, this is a two-sided relationship. We want to trust China but China must prove itself to be trustworthy,” said Roque.
(If things will not get worse in the West Philippine Sea, if they will be true to their promise of not doing any new reclamations and building artificial islands. So like all relationships, this is a two-sided relationship. We want to trust China but China must prove itself to be trustworthy.) — Rosalie Coz | UNTV News and Rescue