Part of the explanation for China’s rapid automation is that it is simply catching up with richer peers. The world’s second-largest economy lags behind the U.S. and manufacturing powerhouses such as Japan, Germany and South Korea in the prevalence of robots on production lines. The rapid automation also reflects a growing recognition in China that its factories need to adapt as the country’s supply of cheap labor dwindles and wages rise. The United Nations expects India to surpass China as the world’s most-populous country as soon as next year. The population of those in China age 20 to 64 — the bulk of the workforce — might have already peaked, U.N. projections show, and is expected to fall steeply after 2030, as China’s population ages and birthrates stay low.
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