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Quality key to high-end transition of Chinese manufacturing

Chinese manufacturing is thrust into the spotlight again with a Chinese company set to take part in building a nuclear power plant in England, which is one of the deals China and Britain signed during President Xi Jinping’s recent visit to Britain.

The nuclear deal will see the new Hinckley Point plant in southwest England built jointly by Electricite de France and China's state-owned China General Nuclear Power Corporation.

The Chinese manufacturers have indeed transformed themselves from being makers of low-end goods under sweat shop-like conditions to high-end innovators. But we still have to wait and see what this development yields.

Last month during Xi’s visit to the US, China's CRRC Corp, the world's biggest train maker by revenue, agreed to a deal to help build a high-speed railway between Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

Some 150 years ago, thousands of Chinese workers came to western US and helped build America’s first transcontinental railroad. The vicissitude of history has seen China transform from exporting labor to high-end manufacturing.

China’s manufacturers deserve credit for securing the nuclear and high-speed rail deals. But are we ready to overtake the US and UK then? No, far from it.

Admittedly, state-backed funding played a key part in making the deal. It remains doubtful if China can strike the deals relying solely on its technology without the massive financial support promised by the Chinese government.

While Chinese firms are busy signing lucrative deals overseas, the ordinary Chinese people are snapping up milk powder, cold pills and toilet seat during overseas trips. Therefore, Chinese manufacturers need not only high-end deals but also high-end quality.

It will be a repeat of the “Great Leap” of the Cultural Revolution, when quality was sacrificed over quantity, if Chinese manufacturers just kowtow to officials’ interests. Consumer demands and sentiment should be the top priority in the manufacturing upgrade.

The Chinese diligence and wisdom enabled the US transcontinental railway to be completed seven years ahead of schedule. The Chinese diligence and wisdom swept the world with cheap but fine “Made-in-China” goods in the 1990s. Now, bullet trains, nuclear plants and telecommunication devices have emerged as new export points in place of shirts and dolls.

China’s demographic dividend has shrunk gradually in recent years, but the manufacturing hasn’t. Education has transformed assembly line workers into skilled technicians, engineers and entrepreneurs who are powering China's shift from exports of cheap labor to high-end products.

Last but not the least, Chinese manufacturing should not just focus on the cutting-edge products but also work on improving the items of daily necessities like milk powder.

(The article is translated by Wu Jie.)

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