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After more than two years of almost closed borders, I was back in China for the first time at the beginning of November, this time for a keynote speech on “Global Trends of Intelligent Manufacturing” in Shanghai. I took the opportunity to address the current major upheaval in industrial automation towards microservice-based composable software. Embedded in my view of the history of the industrial revolution.

I developed the graphic on the division of industrialized nations from the 1970s onwards with their focus on hardware or software in 2016 in connection with a book on Industry 4.0. It describes the resulting pioneering role of Germany for hardware and the USA for software.

It is still relevant and well suited to show the key differences between the USA and German-speaking countries. Highly automated hardware here, absolute leadership in software, internet, cloud and data there. While China has emerged as the third leading player in recent decades. In Shanghai, I was met with the same level of interest that I was used to in the years before the pandemic. The very next day, the organizers published a report that reproduced my presentation in astonishing detail.

I was the only non-Chinese speaker at the event, which was called the “Global Digital Conference”. I had the impression of a purely Chinese event. My presentation was the only one given in English. All the other speakers’ slides required knowledge of Chinese characters.

My impression: China’s interest in the development of industrial automation in Germany is still very high, and those responsible – in contrast especially to politicians in the West – understand quite well what is happening technologically and how it should be assessed. But the global dissonance of recent years, especially since the economic war with China started by then US President Donald Trump and the subsequent turn by Western governments against Beijing, has left its mark.

In my opinion, China remains in the fast lane with its industry and high technology – despite all the disadvantages of the extreme use of technology for state control. As BASF CEO Martin Brudermüller was quoted in the FAZ on November 11th, referring to BASF’s wind farms in Europe with Siemens and in China with Chinese wind turbines: “The Chinese are technically better than we are, and they are also cheaper than we are.” I am not aware of any European initiatives that take this into account.