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China will have more robots operating in its production plants by 2017 than any other country as it cranks up automation of its car and electronics factories, the International Federation of Robotics said on Thursday. Already the biggest market in the $9.5 billion global robot trade, China lags far behind its more industrialized peers in terms of robot density. China has just 30 robots per 10,000 workers employed in manufacturing industries, compared with 437 in South Korea, 323 in Japan, 282 in Germany and 152 in the United States. But a race by carmakers to build plants in China along with wage inflation that has eroded the competitiveness of Chinese labor will push the operational stock of industrial robots to more than double to 428,000 by 2017, the IFR estimates. "Companies are forced to invest ever more in robots to be more productive and raise quality," said Gudrun Litzenberger, general secretary of the Frankfurt-based IFR. Japanese robot makers still have the lion's share of the market, with about 60 percent, but Chinese suppliers are growing fast, with about a quarter of the market. Most of the rest are supplied by European and U.S. manufacturers.