East Asia and the Pacific is ageing faster than any other region in the world, not only posing risks to healthcare and public finances in some countries, but also increasing the challenges for sustainable economic growth. Tackling the problem is complex, as ageing affects a wide range of areas, from birth rate trends to childcare, education, employment, healthcare and pensions, meaning that effective responses require strong leadership and comprehensive policy decisions.
Many countries in the East Asian region are struggling with the problem, including South Korea, Japan and China, which has a population of 1.4 billion. In 2019, 254 million people in China were aged 60 or over, and by 2040 this number is expected to rise to 402 million, representing around 28% of the population. Over the past decade, China has taken a number of steps to curb the ageing of its society: it has introduced a two- and three-child policy, started to reform its pension system, and has taken numerous decisions to support youth and education.
In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated digitalisation processes globally, and China is also placing increasing emphasis on developing the digital economy and the industrial application of technological innovations, which in the longer term could alleviate employment difficulties. In this spirit, Shanghai announced in January 2023 a plan for the development of the robotics industry, with plans to build ten leading robotics brands and create around 100 application areas by 2025. The developments will increase the size of the industry to RMB 100 billion (USD 14.75 billion). By integrating robots and artificial intelligence, and by applying intelligent robots in various industries, the plan will contribute to the objectives of improving the quality of local industry and could replace older workers with lower retraining potential who are leaving the labour market.
Tang Wenkan, Deputy Director of the Shanghai Commission of Economy and Informatisation, said at a press conference on 17 January that despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Shanghai’s robotics industry grew by 6% in 2022, with production exceeding 75,000 units, making it China’s leading robotics city. Robots are already widely used in healthcare, construction, agriculture, commerce and domestic applications. The city aims to expand its local robotics industry, which currently has three national and ten city-level benchmark smart factories, by 20 city-level smart factories, increasing the robot density by 100 robots per 10,000 people by 2025. The current robot density in the city is 260 per 10,000 inhabitants, more than double the global average.
The author is International Advisor at Magyar Nemzeti Bank (the central bank of Hungary)