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Pinoy Kasi

Made in China 2025

/ 05:06 AM November 21, 2018

There is now a required general education course in college called Science, Technology and Society (STS), and I hope it is not being used to ask students to memorize names of inventions and of inventors.

STS should be taught in a way that will help our young understand how our science policies, as well as trajectories of science and engineering, are products of society and culture. Just look at how sound systems in homes began to shrink, the media going from phonograph records to CDs to data bits. Although they’ve now made a comeback, phonographs gave way to cassette players (including the first Walkman in 1979), then CD players and MP3 players, and, now, just a smartphone app like Spotify.

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The shrinkage came about as music became more private, more individual. Even our street sweepers now go about their work listening to their own playlists on their phone or MP3 player.

Of course, music continues to have a strong public component. Aren’t we tormented by Japan’s revenge on the world, the karaoke?

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With the current visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping, I thought I should write about the “Made in China 2025” policy, largely overlooked and yet with wide-reaching implications for the world.

You have to be aged 50 and above to remember a time when people were wary about buying anything with a “Made in Japan” label, because it was seen as a mark of inferiority, the products bound to break down quickly. Today, “Made in Japan” is a mark of quality for everything, from cars to rice cookers.

China is aiming for that same transformation through its Made in China 2025 strategy, which takes off from the Industrie 4.0 of Germany, a country that China looks up to much more than the United States for science and technology.

This is where our STS courses should be updated. It’s outmoded now to talk about an agricultural revolution, followed by an industrial revolution and an information revolution. Industrie 4.0, and Made in China 2025, recognize that we are now into the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The first was what we learned in our old textbooks: steam power. The second was mass production with big assembly lines and, eventually, electricity. There was a long lull before the third — the rise of digital information technologies.

The future now lies with the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which, at the risk of oversimplification, aims for smart factories using artificial intelligence. The aim is to connect everything, an Internet of Things, so that production is based on voluminous data being processed toward self-optimization, self-configuration, self-diagnosis. Yes, think robots… or more. The language of Industrie 4.0 is of self-awareness and self-predictiveness, from market demands to machine breakdowns.

The Chinese gadgets are only side products of an industrial manufacturing system that includes high-speed trains, aerospace and much more. They’re dreaming big, including, in the city of Chengdu, plans to put up an artificial moon to light up the city at night, again self-regulated.

Where’s the society part here?

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Made in China 2025 builds on fierce nationalism—to prove to the world that China can make it (pun intended), and make it big (no pun intended). China has been unrelenting in wiping out the shame of more than a century of kowtowing to the West and, in its early “Made in China” phase, simply being a workshop for multinationals.

The goal now is toward self-reliance from the domestic core content of its product (aiming for 40 percent in 2020, and 70 percent in 2025) to meet the needs of Chinese consumers and, in part, the world.

Among the high-priority areas of development for Made in China 2025 is pharmaceuticals, a sector where China continues to be held hostage by multinationals and their high prices, and unscrupulous Chinese fly-by-night businesses peddling fake and adulterated medicines.

There will be many challenges to Made in China 2025, including nagging ethical questions: the impact of these new technologies on society and the natural environment.

America — well, Trump and his team are not happy. Trump’s trade wars, which have been causing so much havoc internationally, including in the Philippines, isn’t just a matter of American protectionism. The Chinese products targeted with larger import taxes are those that form a core of Made in China 2025—high-tech, high-value electronic products. More than China in the West Philippine Sea, the United States sees Made in China 2025 as even more threatening to the Americans’ now fragile superiority.

mtan@inquirer.com.ph

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TAGS: digital information technologies, Michael l. tan, Pinoy Kasi, science and technology, science policies, STC
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