Pen power: China closer to ballpoint success

It has sent rockets into space, produced millions of the world's smartphones and built high-speed trains. But until now, one bit of manufacturing had perhaps unexpectedly eluded China: the ballpoint pen.

A year ago Premier Li Keqiang went on national television and bemoaned the failure of his country to produce a good quality version of this seemingly-simple implement.

Locally-made versions felt "rough" compared to those from Germany, Switzerland and Japan, Mr Li complained.

High precision

The problem was not the body of the pen, but the tip - the tiny ball that dispenses ink as you write.

It might be something we take for granted, but making them requires high-precision machinery and very hard, ultra-thin steel plates.

Put simply, China's steel has not been good enough. And it has struggled to shape its pen tips accurately.

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