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Robotic arms made by Kuka pours a beer (Source: AFP)

Why are robots so popular in China?

Automated assistance for an aging population

This article originally appeared on ABACUS

China doesn’t just have more people than any other country -- it also has more robots than anywhere else.

But China’s race to robot dominance is only beginning. As part of the “Made in China 2025” plan, the country’s central planners aim to have 150 robots for every 10,000 manufacturing workers by 2020, more than double the current number of 68.

Why is China is so obsessed with robots? One answer is its aging population. An increase in the number of elderly people is affecting countries around the world -- but China’s problem is greater, because its population is maturing at a faster rate.

It's partly a legacy of the one-child policy, which lasted more than three decades before it was axed in 2015. That year, less than 10% of the population was older than 65. But by 2050, it’s expected to rise to 29% -- that’s one out of every four people.

As more people retire, China’s workforce is shrinking. The only way for it to stay competitive is to fill that gap with machines. And more seniors also means more demand for health care.

That's where robots come in.

German robot maker Kuka is betting big on automation, making robots that it says can perform precise radiation treatment on cancer patients, and help operate heavy medical equipment. Midea -- the Chinese home appliance giant that owns Kuka -- says it also plans to bring robotic wheelchairs and AI-powered refrigerators to China’s growing and aging middle class.
Robotic arms made by Kuka pour a beer (Source: AFP)
Not everyone in China is happy about the rise of robots. A recent survey in the country shows that a third of the respondents fear AI might take away their jobs. Indeed, the World Bank estimates that three out of four jobs in China could be replaced by automation by 2030.
But Tencent’s co-founder, Chen Yidan, remains optimistic. “Technology could possibly replace some jobs,” he said. “But at the same time, it also creates jobs.”

For more insights into China tech, sign up for our tech newsletters, subscribe to our Inside China Tech podcast, and download the comprehensive 2019 China Internet Report. Also roam China Tech City, an award-winning interactive digital map at our sister site Abacus.