Why Made in China 2025 Will Succeed, Despite Trump

China will succeed in building a powerful technology industry that will rival the United States, even if President Trump starts a trade war to stop it. The reason can be found on the fourth floor of a nondescript factory in a city once famous for cheap manufacturing and prostitution.

.. Rising labor costs and a new generation with little interest in toiling in factories forced a new tack. Now the sea of people is being replaced by a whirring array of boxy machines, each performing work it used to take 15 people 26 steps to finish.

The factory suggests that Beijing’s vision of Made in China 2025 — the ambitious state-driven plan to retool China’s industries to compete in areas like automation, microchips and self-driving cars — is not being pushed just by the Communist Party’s top leaders. Instead, the drive is also coming from the bottom up: from the businesses and cities across China that know they must modernize or perish.

.. The modernization may not happen in 2025. In fact, it may be long after that. But China will get there, mostly because it has to.

.. China’s very prosperity threatened Dongguan’s future. The average worker’s income rose fourfold over the past decade. Fewer young people wanted to work on dull and stressful assembly lines, preferring service jobs — like waiting tables and delivering e-commerce packages — that let them interact with people or move around. Some factories moved to lower-cost countries or shut down for good.

.. Today, a factory floor that once needed over 300 workers now needs 100.

.. The workers clustered around the machines will probably be replaced by machines themselves in a year or two.

.. The factory requires 16 workers on a shift, instead of 103 before it was automated. The robotic arms are made in China.

.. Made in China 2025’s other goals, such as building up world-class microchip industries or self-driving cars, remain out of sight for now.

.. Yet when it comes to manufacturing, Dongguan suggests Made in China 2025 will succeed partly because the effort is bigger than Beijing. Chinese companies and local government officials are determined to climb the value chain so they will not fall into obsolescence.

Chesterton’s fence

Chesterton’s fence is the principle that reforms should not be made until the reasoning behind the existing state of affairs is understood. The quotation is from G. K. Chesterton‘s 1929 book The Thing, in the chapter entitled “The Drift from Domesticity”:

.. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.

.. If you’re considering nominating something for deletion, or changing a policy, because it doesn’t appear to have any use or purpose, research its history first. You may find out why it was created, and perhaps understand that it still serves a purpose. Or if you do feel the issue it addressed is no longer valid, frame your argument for deletion in a way that acknowledges that.