‘Invasion’ of Chinese robots sparks concern in South Korea amid aging

The respite provided by these mobile delivery and bussing robots has only been a source of heightened concern among local tech firms.

The dramatic rise of China’s robotic industry has been a boon to many — but not all.

One of its neighbors, South Korea, which also stands out for its adoption of robotics, has voiced its concern about a steady inflow of Chinese-made robots.

Financial Times reported recently that South Korea is grappling with a labor shortage caused by a demographic crisis.

South Korea has one of the world’s lowest fertility rates, at 0.78, hitting a 52-year low, according to figures released by Korean statisticians on February 22 this year.

As a result, many industries in South Korea are compelled to rely on robots to substitute human employees.

Data from the Korean Association of Robot Industry shared with the Financial Times showed there were 5,000 server robots in Korean restaurants, the South China Morning Post reported.

The respite provided by these mobile delivery and bussing robots has only been a source of heightened concern among local tech firms.

Many Korean robot technology developers who spoke to the Times said they are worried the market will be flooded with cheap robot waiters from China, inhibiting the growth of local players.

For instance, a Chinese-built server robot could range between 10 million won and 30 million won, equivalent to US$7,551 to US$22,654, about a fifth the cost of a South Korean variant.

One of the executives at a Korean robotic firm told Financial Times that they are trying to beat competition with better-quality robots, “but this is not easy.”

In response, some South Korean firms are seeking new ways to push back against the invasion of lower-priced Chinese rivals.

According to a report run by Aju Korea Daily, a newspaper, some South Korea startups are trying to be back in the game, by renting out their robots for 300,000 won per month under what is popularly known as a “robot-as-a-service” (RaaS) model.

Industry insiders have pointed out that to compete with Chinese imports, the government needs to issue subsidies to encourage purchases of domestically developed counterparts.

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Ni Tao

Ni Tao is the founder and editor-in-chief of cnrobopedia. Prior to cnrobopedia, he had a full decade of experience with a major state-run English-language newspaper as a tech reporter and opinion writer. He is also a communications specialist, having provided consultancy services to established firms like Siemens, Philips, ABinBev, Diageo, Trip.com Group (Nasdaq: TCOM, HK: 9961), Jianpu Technology (NYSE: JT) and a handful of domestic startups. A graduate of Fudan University, he writes widely about China's business and tech scenes and other topics for global publications including South China Morning Post, SupChina, The Diplomat, CGTN, Banking Technology, among others, and tries to impart his experience to students at Fudan University Journalism School, where he is a part-time lecturer. When he's not writing about robotics, you can expect him to be on his beloved Yanagisawa saxophones, trying to play some jazz riffs, often in vain and occasionally against the protests of an angry neighbor. Get in touch with him by dropping a line at nitao0927@gmail.com.

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