Chinese Translation and its Connection to The Future of Technology & Manufacturing in China

Beginning in 1953, the government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) started laying out a series of social and economic development initiatives in the form of “Five-year Plans.” From the very onset, great emphasis was placed on technology and manufacturing, launching an intensive program of industrial growth that established a firm, modern technological foundation for heavy industries such as iron and steel, coal mining, cement production, electricity generation and machine building.

Jumping ahead, by 1995 the PRC was responsible for about 5 percent of global manufacturing valued-added outputs. The country ranked highest in the world in production of coal, cement, televisions, foodstuff, cotton and cotton dresses, second in steel and chemical fiber, and third in electricity supply. Over the next 15 years, investments in research and development (R&D), infrastructure construction and facilities modernization would boost the value of Chinese manufacturing output to US$2.3 trillion, surpassing that of the United States for the first time since 1850.

Now, the PRC is midway through its Twelfth Five Year Plan (2011~2015), and many are wondering whether the incredible growth spurt can continue. How high is up? And in what new directions can technology and manufacturing be expected to expand? The trends show that China still has a long-term plans for development, and will increasingly rely on foreign companies to help it along the way, paving the way for Western companies looking to do business in one of the world’s largest markets.

New Technology Leads the Way

The current Five-Year Plan calls for an increase in national spending on R&D to 2.3 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). That’s up from 1.3 percent in 2005 and 2 percent in 2010. Considering that the GDP is also expected to grow 8 percent, the absolute amount of R&D investment can be expected to increase nearly 25 percent.

Quite specifically, the Plan deemphasizes traditional heavy industries and singles out “emerging strategic industries” for growth, expecting their value-added output to reach 8 percent of GDP by 2015. Those industries are Energy Saving & Environment Protection, New Generation Information Technology, Biotechnology, High-End Equipment Manufacturing, New Energy, New Materials and New Energy Vehicles.

The Plan also points to the conversion of coastal regions from being the “world’s factory” to hubs of R&D and high-end manufacturing. Emphasis is being placed on more efficient nuclear power development under the precondition of ensured safety, while increased momentum is expected for large-scale hydropower plants in southwest China. In concert with these advances, high-speed rail and highway networks will be lengthened, too.

Of special interest to companies outside China, the current Plan also encourages the invitation of foreign investment in “modern agriculture, high-tech and environment protection industries.” Much of the previous growth of the Chinese manufacturing sector was spurred by outside capital, and this trend is expected to continue, making communication between China and the outside a world particularly in terms of translation and interpretation an absolute must in the future.

Sectors in the Spotlight

According to a recent special advertising section published in Forbes Magazine by the Tianjin Economic Development Area (TEDA), several manufacturing industries are poised for huge success in the near future. TEDA, of course, is the main free market zone in Binhai, Tianjin, established in 1984 and home to more foreign businesses than all of Shanghai.

First and foremost among the rising stars is New Energy/New Materials. Global demand for efficient production of power, energy savings and environmental technologies has caused a “green rush” in such industries as crystal silicon and film solar cell production, wind-energy systems and parts manufacturing, hybrid vehicles, and innovations in hydrogen, geothermal and nuclear energy generation.

Another rapidly emerging sector is Biopharmaceuticals. TEDA is now home to four state-level R&D centers, five enterprise-owned technology centers and 12 enterprise-owned engineering centers. The China’s central government recently authorized a pilot project exploring how to streamline approval procedures for new drugs and, when the details have been worked out, a stampede can be expected for new patents, production facilities and distribution arrangements.

Other industries to watch include Automotive, Petrochemicals, Telecommunications, Information Technology and Robotics. There’s also considerable enthusiasm for the emergence of Aerospace, fueled by ground-breaking for a new TEDA Aerospace City, intended to be “a showcase of China’s aerospace capabilities” that will help nurture the very latest technological advances.

Given all these technology-based fields will continue to be in high demand in the future, companies both in the West and East will need to rely on efficacious communication and will not want to run the risk of losing out simply to lack of investment in translating documents, including user guides, product descriptions, PRs or even emails.

Greener Years Ahead

Although the PRC’s leaders tend to look forward in five-year segments, there are many futurologists willing to focus their vision much farther ahead. A 2008 report from Cambridge University, for example, focused on how U.K. enterprises could gain opportunities in China’s manufacturing value chain for white goods, TFT-liquid crystal displays and pharmaceuticals. The authors went on to identify “automotive, aerospace, the digital sector and equipment manufacturers” as key elements of China’s “High Value Manufacturing” (HVM) strategy for future decades.

Additionally, the researchers noted the growing importance of “sustainable” manufacturing. This is a reference to production practices that address such issues as energy supply, raw material sourcing and climate change in the course of creating value-added output, beginning at the initial concept stage of development. Demand will be great for innovative waste disposal and recycling systems, too.

In 2010, the Chinese Academy of Sciences released a report through the Science Press of Beijing that examined “Advanced Manufacturing Technology in China: A Roadmap to 2050.” Those authors also noted the need for a trend toward “intelligent manufacturing based on ubiquitous information and green manufacturing in harmony with the environment.”

And in 2011, the Deloitte China Manufacturing Industry Group issued a study entitled “Where is China’s manufacturing industry going?” They concluded that China is creating a platform “to supply the domestic and global markets with 21st century goods that are of high value and address the world’s critical energy, climate, food, and other resource challenges.”

Grasping the Opportunity

Clearly, China is working to integrate its technology and manufacturing pursuits within the global economy. As time rolls on, there should be more and more openings for foreign businesses to cooperate with local Chinese enterprises in areas ranging from technology transfer and licensing agreements to the supply of components, facilities upgrades and more. Greater access to local markets for non-Chinese goods can be expected, too.

Those who wish to profit from the future of technology and manufacturing in China will have to ensure that nothing gets lost in translation when opportunities arise. From patents, contracts and intellectual property rights to direct investment agreements, there is no room for misunderstandings. The same is true of product branding and marketing to newly affluent and increasingly more sophisticated Chinese consumers. Just as everyone wants a future that is clear, written communication must be, too—yet another good reason to entrust important translation projects to professionals.

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