Editorial: It Is Time To Stand Up To China In Aviation

Credit: (from left): Airbus, AFP/Getty Images, Paul Weatherman/Boeing

Airbus and Boeing have finally ended their World Trade Organization aircraft-subsidy feud of nearly two decades, and it couldn’t have come a moment too soon. Spending more time sparring with each other over which government gave an unfair boost to its commercial aircraft industry would have continued to obscure the growing challenge that China’s own aircraft subsidies pose.

The U.S. and EU have agreed not to provide undue R&D funding to Boeing or Airbus. But another important aspect of the five-year truce is their commitment to form a working group to analyze so-called nonmarket practices of third parties that may harm their large civil aircraft sectors. This signals that the West is finally taking steps to stop the unfair business practices by China over the last 20 years to gain dominance in an array of other manufacturing and high-tech sectors (see page 59).

The aviation challenge from China is two-fold. The country’s increasingly assertive rulers have made no secret of their ambition to turn the Airbus-Boeing duopoly in large civil aircraft into a triopoly. Over the last two decades, they have funneled money into the Commercial Aircraft Corp. of China (Comac) and its C919 airliner, which is now in flight testing and could be delivered before the year is out. Nobody sees the C919 as a technological threat to Airbus or Boeing. But China’s massive market and state-run economy are being leveraged to boost orders domestically, ensuring at least a modicum of commercial success. And anyone who thinks future Chinese airplanes will not be better is ignoring the swift technological progress the once-backward nation has made in areas such as hypersonics, space exploration (and weapons), sea power and artificial intelligence (see page 32).

A second, less discussed challenge is already harming Boeing. In 2000, China accounted for 2% of deliveries of commercial Western aircraft. By 2018, that share had risen to 25%, giving Beijing enormous clout that it is using in its trade and political disputes. China has not announced an order from Boeing since 2017, and months after the FAA and European Union's EASA recertified the 737 MAX to fly, Chinese regulators still have not followed suit. Boeing is being held hostage in a wider geopolitical standoff with the U.S. While Airbus may benefit in the short term, neither company wants to see its access to a crucial market tied to political whims or technology transfer.

The good news is that the West has some leverage of its own. A majority of the C919’s components are made by Western suppliers, and Comac has little in terms of a maintenance infrastructure. China may hold the keys to a large market, but the West controls access to critical engine technology, a massive supply chain and repair shops. The WTO working group is the one place where the U.S. and EU can begin to change rules that have benefited Beijing for many years.

A joint June 17 statement from U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai and UK Secretary of State for International Trade Liz Truss says the new framework allows the two nations to counter nonmarket practices. “This agreement is a model for ensuring fair competition and addressing challenges posed by nonmarket economies,” they write, clearly aiming at China.

U.S. President Joe Biden indicated the WTO agreement will provide a model for dealing with other economic challenges posed by China, which has a history of demanding technology transfer as the price for access to its lucrative markets. “The U.S. and EU will work together in specific ways that reflect our high standards, including collaborating on inward and outbound investment and technology transfer,” he says.

The West also is ramping up pressure beyond aviation as an emboldened China asserts its growing economic and military might. NATO has declared China “a systematic challenge,” and its director, Jens Stoltenberg, warns that an attack on a space asset could trigger Article V, which binds alliance members to provide assistance to the member that was attacked. In addition, the U.S. is closely scrutinizing Chinese investment in American companies and ramping up cybersecurity.

It would be foolhardy to think Beijing will suddenly fall into line and play nice with the West. Its rulers believe a sleeping giant has awoken and that it is time for their nation to take its rightful place as a leading world power. China certainly is within its rights to develop an aerospace industry, but if it wants to compete on the world stage, it must do so on a level playing field. The WTO working group can serve as an important tool to unite the international community in limiting China’s unfair trade practices and chart a course for protecting Western innovations.


Xi, and thus the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), will never 'fall in line and play nice' (as you say) until either they think they have won or are soundly defeated (politically and economically, certainly - militarily, if necessary).

The ultimate goal of the CCP is world domination. They truly believe that have a destiny to rule the world by virtue of having a "5,000 year old civilization". Their market system is merely a tool towards that end. Their 'economic' model uses slave labor and concentration camps for 'undesirables' (sound familiar? think back 80 years) to sell goods to the West at artificially low prices, taking our money to build their empire (their military, really). We have corporate leaders who only think of the stock price today and gladly play along, shipping western manufacturing to China, thus enriching them further. There is also the pandemic of IP theft to make all the technology gains they need without doing the work.
The CCP's failure to recertify the 737Max is merely one of the pieces on the board. Perhaps the USA and EU should refuse to certify any jet built by the CCP unless and until they 'play fair' and 'follow the rules'
We also need to unite and rescind China's status as a 'developing nation'.
Do "developing" nations have atomic or thermonuclear weapons, the technology to put objects (including humans) into orbit, or even send landers to Mars? I say once somebody in leadership has made a political choice to ignore the needs of their people to pursue 'prestige' projects and achieve certain levels of technology that nation should be considered Developed and lose all of the false advantages they have.
The Chinese don't want to "rule the world." They just want to be #1 and have everybody bow down.
China does not want world domination, they only wanthe old status where all other countries bowed down to the Chinese Emperor as the natural leader . After that they ont are much as long as nobody questions their random decisions.
《 The CCP's failure to recertify the 737Max is merely one of the pieces on the board. Perhaps the USA and EU should refuse to certify any jet built by the CCP unless and until they 'play fair' and 'follow the rules'. We also need to unite and rescind China's status as a 'developing nation'. 》
I cannot beleive what i am reading in the last comment. I remember not too long ago a Bombardier’s agreement to sell 75 of its popular CS100 aircraft to Delta Air Lines. When that contract was signed, Boeing filed a complaint with the Trump administration that Bombardier was the beneficiary of billions of dollars in government subsidies, making it possible for Bombardier to sell its aircraft at prices well below actual production cost. This has finally been rejected by the U.S. International Trade Commission, that rejected the 300% tariff after reviewing the facts of the case in detail. It concluded there was no dumping in this case, removed the tariff, and did so unanimously.
Over 50% of all avionics and other equipment came from US suppliers. Looks like the Northern neighbor has the same goal as the Chinese… the destruction of America !?
I hope the west does not sell "green" engine technologies to the CCP. This could keep a chain on acceptance levels of the C919 and blunt it's sales potential to carriers.
COMIC's plan is to have C919s to replace some Boeing and Airbus's planes in the domestic market. The sino-russian C929s will be available
in 2030s to compete with the Duo in the international market, where WTO could play a role to ensure fair trade practice,