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China should accelerate innovation to support growth rather than remaining the "world's factory", though its traditional manufacturing role does help the country remain a leading driver of the world economy, said experts at the Summer Davos Forum that began in Tianjin on Tuesday.
Manufacturing has long been China's major strength, but that can be replicated elsewhere, Bhaskar Chakravorti, an economist at Tufts University in the United States, said on the sidelines of the annual event.
Some foreign investors have already moved their manufacturing bases to other Asian countries such as Vietnam, Thailand and India where labor costs are lower.
Experts at the forum said China should realize its low-end manufacturing model is no longer sustainable.
"Every country needs to pick its own competitive edge," said Chakravorti. "China has benefited from large-scale manufacturing-driven growth for a long time, so I think it's time to divert from massive manufacturing and replication capability, and look into self-innovation."
The economist noted that self-innovation capabilities require a much longer development period and deeper roots in education starting from kindergarten and primary school.
"The Chinese education system is typically Asian and highly disciplined, which is producing bright young people who are not fundamentally trained to think about solving problems or redesigning things," he said.
Zhang Xiaoqiang, deputy head of the nation's top economic planning agency, the National Development and Reform Commission, was quoted in a recent People's Daily report saying that the complex domestic and overseas economic situation has not slowed China's efforts to transform its economic model and boost innovation.
"Despite the negative factors, we are gaining momentum for innovation," he said.
Hans-Paul Burkner, global CEO and president of Boston Consulting Group, said many Chinese companies are still copying, but he has noticed some take the global lead in innovation in some industries.
"Chinese companies were initially copying, but now they are developing things themselves," he said. "Look at Huawei, one of the biggest patent holders in the world. I'm sure we will see more of that as China's development path continues - just copying what others have done is not sufficient."
In its efforts to become an innovative nation by 2020, China plans to raise the proportion of GDP invested in research and development from 1.8 percent in 2010 to 2.2 percent in 2015.
A program to recruit global experts begun in 2008 aims to attract about 2,000 overseas professionals to work on innovative projects.
Another recruitment initiative launched late last year plans to hire 500 to 1,000 top foreign professionals over the next decade to help with innovation and scientific research.
Each province, municipality and autonomous region has also formulated plans to attract overseas talent to help boost local development.
(China Daily 09/12/2012 page15)