Inter-imperialist rivalry: China surpasses the US in robot density


One of the key debates among socialists today is the class character of China. This is hardly surprising since China is not only the most populous country on the planet but its rivalry with the US also constitutes a pivot of the world situation.

The author of these lines has argued for more than a decade that China is not only a capitalist country but that it has also become an imperialist Great Power. We elaborated that China is one of the leading states in terms of production of capitalist value, capital export, globally operating corporations, billionaires as well as political influence and military spending.[1]

At this place, we do not intend to repeat our analysis. We rather want to deal with one of the key arguments of some socialists who dispute our thesis of China as an imperialist power. Our critics argue that while China is indeed a large country in terms of economic power, it is however much more backward compared with the U.S. and other old imperialist powers.

Against this, we explained that, first, imperialist powers are not necessarily the economically most advanced states (think about Russia before 1917, Japan, Italy etc. in the first half of the 20th century). However, this did not stop Marxist theoreticians like Lenin and Trotsky to consider these countries as imperialist states.

Secondly, we have emphasised that this is only partly true, and that China is rapidly catching up. In the article at hand, we want to draw attention to a recently published study which strongly confirms our thesis.

According to the International Federation of Robotics (IFR), China is making rapid progress in the installation of industrial robotics. Over the past decade, installations of industrial robots in China have increased by 10.7 times, compared with 68% growth in Japan, 67% growth in the US, 20% growth in Germany and 19% growth in South Korea.[2]

As a result, China has become one of the leading economies in the field of industrial robots. Its share of total stocks of industrial robots had grown from 3.2% (2010) to 31% (2020). (See Table 1). In 2021, more than half a million industrial robots were installed in factories around the globe. Of these, China alone accounted for 52% of the market.[3]

When we look at the robot density (the number of robots per employee), we see that China has now even surpassed the United States. It is now the fifth most automated country, behind South Korea, Singapore, Japan and Germany but ahead of the US which is only in ninth place. (See Table 2)

Industrial robots are no exception. China has become the No. 1 or 2 in various crucial trendsetting industries like Artificial Intelligence, renewable energy, or medical research – to name only a few examples.[4]

In summary, it is wrong to claim that China would be a backward economy which is only relevant given its absolute size. It is rapidly catching up with the old imperialist powers in key areas of modern technologies and has become a leading nation in several fields.

Socialists need to recognize the imperialist nature of China in order to find a correct orientation in a world situation characterized by an accelerating rivalry between the Great Powers. Instead of wrongly siding with China as a supposedly non-imperialist country, they need to oppose all Great Powers – those of West as well as of East.

Michael Pröbsting is a socialist activist and writer. For some of his publications on imperialism and Great Power rivalry see: He is the editor of the website


[1] See e.g. the book by Michael Pröbsting: Anti-Imperialism in the Age of Great Power Rivalry. The Factors behind the Accelerating Rivalry between the U.S., China, Russia, EU and Japan. A Critique of the Left’s Analysis and an Outline of the Marxist Perspective, RCIT Books, Vienna 2019,; by the same author: “Chinese Imperialism and the World Economy”, an essay published in the second edition of The Palgrave Encyclopedia of Imperialism and Anti-Imperialism (edited by Immanuel Ness and Zak Cope), Palgrave Macmillan, Cham, 2020,; "China: An Imperialist Power … Or Not Yet? A Theoretical Question with Very Practical Consequences! Continuing the Debate with Esteban Mercatante and the PTS/FT on China’s class character and consequences for the revolutionary strategy", 22 January 2022,; "China‘s transformation into an imperialist power. A study of the economic, political and military aspects of China as a Great Power" (2012),; "How is it possible that some Marxists still Doubt that China has Become Capitalist? An analysis of the capitalist character of China’s State-Owned Enterprises and its political consequences", 18 September 2020,; "Unable to See the Wood for the Trees. Eclectic empiricism and the failure of the PTS/FT to recognize the imperialist character of China", 13 August 2020,; "China’s Emergence as an Imperialist Power", New Politics, Summer 2014 (Vol:XV-1, Whole #: 57).

[2] Scott Foster: "Robotic upside to China’s demographic decline", 23 January 2023 

[3] President’s Report by Marina Bill: "Review of the past year", International Federation of Robotics, 19 December 2022,

[4] See on these e.g. Daitian Li, Tony W. Tong, and Yangao Xiao: "Is China Emerging as the Global Leader in AI?" 18 February 2021,; Dominic Chiu: "The East Is Green: China’s Global Leadership in Renewable Energy",; Sintia Radu: "U.S., China Compete for Medical Research Leadership", 27 September 2019,