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Made in China 2025 - A Halftime Analysis

· Policy,general,review

{{{Maximilian Nadicksbernd}}}

Five years ago, China launched an ambitious plan to become a leading global technological superpower by 2049, the centennial of the founding of the Peoples' Republic of China. President Xi Jinping installed the strategy "Made in China 2025" (MIC25) as a nationwide guideline for China's future.1 The strategic plan defines ten core industries, such as robotics, power equipment, and nextgeneration IT, in which China aims to achieve breakthroughs and create globally competitive companies.

At its halftime, a series of articles appearing here, focusing on central elements of MIC2025, will take a closer look on how far this strategy has been carried out and what still needs to be done. 

China is currently at a critical juncture in its endeavor to achieve the ambitious developmental targets it has set itself for 2049. Despite its remarkable economic growth over the past decades, the People's Republic still faces major challenges. With a current GDP per capita of around 10,000 USD, China is considered an upper-middle-income country according to the United Nations (UN) classification.2 Despite its remarkable success, China is still at risk of being caught in the middle-income trap. Many developing countries before had lost not only their comparative advantage due to rising wages, but also lost their ability to compete with advanced economies in terms of productivity and innovation at this stage of development. 

Core industries

Figure 1: Ten core industries set the basis for Made in China 2025.

 Made in China 2025 

The "Made in China 2025" (MIC25) strategy released in May 2015 was designed to help overcome precisely this challenge. The goal of this plan is to establish a strong, national innovation system. The government is deploying a set of influential industrial policy measures that constantly strive to improve capital allocation, policy coordination, and tech-related innovation. Ultimately, the Chinese government hopes to propel China through the middle-income trap and transform the nation into a globally competitive manufacturing superpower largely independent of foreign technology. 

MIC25 represents an industrial policy blueprint for building a world-class innovation system and achieving global dominance in key technologies. MIC25's stated method is to pursue an innovationdriven and talent-based approach that puts quality first, promotes green development, and supports not only future-oriented but also traditional industries. In practice, the strategy sets specific market share targets for Chinese companies and defines strategic priorities (战略任务) and support mechanisms (战略支撑) that extend far beyond the ten core industries (see Figure 1). Using smart manufacturing as the backbone, the strategy strives to turn China into a global hub for high-tech industries, absorbing and localizing entire value chains. 

The ten core industries of MIC25 are not all pursued with the same intensity (see Figure 2). Chinese companies from more traditional high-tech sectors like aerospace, machine tools, or software engineering face the challenge of catching up with foreign competitors. They do not prioritize the development of top-notch products and global leadership and are content to overcome existing technology gaps by building up sufficient (as opposed to state-of-the-art) domestic expertise leveraging its large domestic market to emerge as a serious global competitor. One example is the production of passenger jets: both the single-aisle C919 and wide-body CR929 are set to take market share from Airbus and Boeing. The Chinese state manufacturer Comac has commitments from 28 mostly Chinese buyers for 815 airplanes, and will become increasingly active on the global market over the next ten years.5 

MIC25 policy plans

Figure 2: MIC25 policy plans prioritize digital and emerging industries - reflected in number of national-level action and development plans.4

In smart manufacturing, digitalization, and emerging technologies, China wants to leapfrog and leave its foreign competitors behind. Technology gaps in these fields are more fluid, and China sees the opportunity to assume a leading position right from the start. The tables have already started to turn. The government pushes the development of future technologies by providing financial support and by artificially increasing demand through, for instance, beneficial regulations or tax incentives to quickly turn ideas from niche industries into products that are suitable for mass consumption. China has forged ahead in fields such as next-generation IT (companies like Huawei and ZTE are set to play a major role in the deployment of 5G networks), high-speed railways and ultra-high voltage electricity transmissions. More than 530 smart manufacturing industrial parks have popped up in China. Major focus is the creation of the "Industrial Internet" enabled by deployment of technologies like AI/robotics (47 percent), big data (32 percent) and cloud computing (20 percent).

Recently, green manufacturing was given special emphasis in policy documents, underpinning President Xi Jinping's vision of creating an "ecological civilization" that thrives on sustainable development. China boasts a strong position in areas such as new energy and intelligent energy saving vehicles. The electric vehicle (EV) battery market is a powerful example of how quickly such dynamics may unfold and global value chains are absorbed. In 2017, seven of the top ten EV battery companies were Chinese, accounting for 53 percent of the global market share. The expansion of China's battery manufacturing capacities is in the pipeline and could amount to three times that planned in the rest of the world.7

However, the comprehensive and adaptive nature of MIC25 makes it inherently difficult to evaluate the strategy's efficiency and success as a whole. The dependency on foreign core components is still a major bottleneck for China's national tech ambitions. Its industry has considerable weaknesses in mastering foundational technologies essential for developing an advanced high-tech sector in certain areas, especially for the digital economy. This vulnerability is most evident in the fields of new materials, semiconductors and key components for advanced machinery and machine tools. Chinese tech firms have already experienced considerable difficulties when they were cut off from access to chips or other high-tech components from abroad, as illustrated by the US trade measures against companies like ZTE and Huawei.

Trade balance China

Figure 3: China's high-tech innovation relies on foreign components - a strong dependence results in negative trade balance (in bn USD).8 

Synthesizing the core takeaways, it becomes clear that China has not at all abandoned its goal of catching up with Western industrialized countries – MIC25 serves as the backbone to overcome the middle-income trap. A plethora of individual targets set as part of MIC25 demonstrate ambition, but also indicate that not all technologies are emphasized equally: China is determined to dominate smart and emerging technologies as namely AI robotics or cloud computing. However, foreign tech dependency is China's Achilles heel. 

Progress assessments of MIC25 will thus vary greatly depending on the chosen parameters and individual sectors. They are industry- or tech-specific and fluctuate between highly aggregated or exceedingly detailed levels. Examples include market share targets for Chinese technology, target quotas for smart equipment usage, a certain number of patents per 100 million CNY in revenue, and the development of several quality brands. Thus, a critical in-depth analysis of each sector has to be done in order to achieve transparency on how far China's strategy can be coined a success. 

Therefore, stay tuned for the following topics to be covered soon:  

  • Next-generation IT-companies like Huawei and ZTE are set to play a major role in the deployment of 5G networks 
  • China's 530+ smart manufacturing industrial parks - big data (21 percent), new materials (17 percent) and cloud computing (13 percent) projects to be watched  
  • Green manufacturing and new energy (hydrogen)- thriving sustainability and circular economic approaches 
  • "Industrial Internet" and Artificial Intelligence (AI) – delayering the broad range of interconnected fields that span virtually everything from hardware to software and tech applications such as facial recognition or interconnected vehicles 


1) English translation of the official policy. 
2) United Nations (2014). "World Economic Situation and Prospects 2014." 
3) Wang Jianing 王佳宁 (ed.) (2016). "中共中央 国务院印发《国家创新驱动发展战略纲要》 (The State Council of the CCP Central Committee releases the "Outline of the National Innovation-driven Development Strategy")." Xinhuanet. May 19. 05/19/c_1118898033.htm. 
5) Bloomberg (2017) 
6) Deloitte (2018). "China's smart manufacturing: a steady push for the long term" 
7) MERICS (2018). "China's battery industry is powering up for global competition." 
8) KONEMA, China: Science and Technology - Imports and Exports of High-tech Products 

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