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China Expected to Be the Top Market for Industrial Robots by 2016

Robots work on the welding line at a Beijing Hyundai Motor Co. plant in Beijing on March 15
Robots work on the welding line at a Beijing Hyundai Motor Co. plant in Beijing on March 15Photograph by Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg

Being a Chinese factory boss is harder than it used to be. Rising labor costs, alongside an increasingly unfavorable exchange rate for China’s renminbi and still slack demand from Europe, are pinching manufacturers in China’s southern export hubs. In Zhejiang province, average assembly-line wages nearly tripled from 2005 to 2012, from $2,425 to $6,750 per year.

Hard times call for inventive measures. On Thursday, a source at the Zhejiang Economic and Information Commission told the state-run China Daily newspaper that the local government will pilot a novel solution: investing $82 billion over five years to help local factories partially automate production processes. And Zhejiang officials aren’t alone in their thinking.