Solid backing for pursuit of cutting-edge growth


Evolving capabilities: Employees working in a semiconductor factory in Huai’an, China. The country is moving away from its old economic model of relying on low labour costs and massive exports. — AFP

BEIJING: With one new car rolling off the production line every 76 seconds and over 700 robots seamlessly integrated into the manufacturing process, a new electric vehicle (EV) factory in south-eastern Beijing is forging the way ahead for the automotive industry.

Run by Xiaomi Corp, what they call “the super car factory” is setting new standards for efficiency and innovation.

Powered by artificial intelligence (AI) technology, the plant has developed an autonomous X-ray quality inspection system. The system ensures that all critical parts of the production process undergo high-precision monitoring to guarantee good quality standards.

As the global demand for EVs continues to grow, facilities like this one are poised to lead the way in shaping the future of the automotive industry.

“The smart-driving functions of electric cars will be the decisive factor over the next decade,” said Lei Jun, chairman and chief executive officer of Xiaomi Corp, adding that the company is partnering with both Chinese and international suppliers to make cars as intelligent as possible.

The carmaking plant epitomises how China’s efforts to cultivate “new quality productive forces” is fuelling the country’s high-quality development and injecting fresh vitality into the global economy, company executives and experts said.

President Xi Jinping first proposed the term in September, and expounded on the theory of new quality productive forces during an inspection tour of Hunan province in March.

The president said technological innovation is the core element for developing new quality productive forces, and efforts should be made to proactively involve top-notch research and development institutions from home and abroad to enhance independent innovation capabilities in key fields.

The theory has struck a chord with Chinese and foreign entrepreneurs as they see abundant opportunities arising from the country’s innovation-driven development and believe that China will continue playing a crucial role in fueling global economic recovery despite the challenges ahead.

Business titans’ backing

Tim Cook, chief executive officer of Apple, said in an interview with China Daily that China’s sharpened focus on cultivating new quality productive forces “is essential”, adding “it is the future”.

Highlighting that “Apple and China grew together over the past three decades, a symbiotic kind of relationship both enjoyed”, Cook said Apple’s Chinese suppliers now have the most advanced manufacturing in the world.

“If you look at the automation level, it’s not just off-the-shelf automation. It is customised automation. They have robotics, automatic guided vehicles and very precise vision systems,” Cook added.

“There’s no supply chain in the world more critical to Apple than that of China. We’ve been building up and investing more and more here,” Cook said.

Denis Depoux, global managing director of market consultancy Roland Berger, said the concept of new quality productive forces indicates China’s strategic shift toward modern and sustainable economic growth.

“The old China stories of the past – low labour costs, relatively few added-value products, massive exports and massive fixed-asset investments in infrastructure building and fuelling the economy – are gone,” he said. “The new China story relies on factors such as advanced manufacturing, decarbonisation, growing innovation prowess and the services economy.”

Jeffrey Sachs, a renowned economist and director of the Centre for Sustainable Development at Columbia University in the United States, said: “China’s strength right now is that it is on the cutting edge of many of the most important technology innovations for the future, including low-carbon energy solutions, electric vehicles, batteries, supply chains, high-speed trains and many other sectors. All of this will be very good for China’s growth in the future.”

Beacon of progress

The evidence is already clear. China dominates the Global Lighthouse Network list, a project launched by the World Economic Forum in collaboration with consultancy McKinsey & Co to track advanced manufacturing plants, known as lighthouse factories, that apply state-of-the-art digital technologies.

To date, China is home to 62 lighthouse factories, the highest number of any country and accounting for more than one-third of the world’s total.

China also ranked 12th in the 2023 Global Innovation Index, becoming the only middle-income country to break into the top 30, according to the World Intellectual Property Organisation.

As nurturing new quality productive forces gains traction in China, “in the future, we may see more similar patterns in industries such as healthcare, new materials and AI, and these efforts will provide big opportunities for foreign companies,” Depoux added.

Frank Meng, chairman of Qualcomm China, said the wireless communication industry, which the US chip company operates in, offers strong support for nurturing new quality productive forces.

“China’s smart-car industry has shown strong momentum globally. We have helped 40-plus Chinese automotive brands in launching more than 100 new models with intelligent-connectivity capabilities,” he said.

Meng underscored Qualcomm’s confidence in the long-term prospects of the Chinese economy. “Qualcomm has consistently considered China as a pivotal business partner and valued customer, viewing it as more than just a market or a link in the supply chain,” he said.

Miao Wei, a former minister of industry and information technology, said the real economy is the main area for cultivating new quality productive forces.

More efforts are needed to encourage enterprises to play a pivotal role in advancing major technological breakthroughs from laboratories to production lines, Miao added.

China is the only country in the world that has all industrial categories listed in the United Nations Industrial Classification, covering almost all traditional and emerging manufacturing sectors.

This provides an unparalleled base for nurturing new quality productive forces, he said.

“But we need to further leverage the role of enterprises like Huawei in national major technological innovation endeavours,” Miao added. — China Daily/ANN

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