Last week, China’s jet, the C919, started to carry passengers, which is a big step in developing its own aviation industry. According to the Wall Street Journal, the C919 project shows Beijing’s ambitions to challenge Boeing and Airbus, the duopoly of corporations in the aviation industry, but also reflects the gap between them. This major step implies China’s rising power and the resolve to be a powerful country in the Sino-US competition, but also shows the lack of key techniques in the aviation industry. China is a powerful country, but if it wants to be more powerful, situating itself in a cooperative, stable and peaceful environment with the US is necessary. 

China’s C919 project started in 2007, but it did not catch Chinese leaders’ eyes until 2014 after Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit. At that time, China’s president Xi Jinping claimed China would not be a powerful country until it has its own commercial airliner. Since then, the civil aviation group has been separated from China’s military-industrial complex, which was suffering from a chaotic development strategy at that time. In 2015, China launched a 10-year strategy, Made in China 2025, which is a policy designed to reduce reliance (rely) on foreign supply chains, and accelerate to develop the capacity of domestic design and engineering in the high-tech industry. The success of the C919 project looks like a monument of “Made in China 2025,” and obtained for China the ability to challenge the US, but there are shortcomings (flaws)  hidden/hiding in the details of the supply chains.

After years of work improving China’s manufacturing ability, some analysts say the C919 remains reliant on foreign suppliers. Those components, which include the safety systems and engines are from the US, and it makes the project easily vulnerable to any sanctions from the US. Bringing 168 passengers 3450 miles by the C919 is the first step in China’s push for long-term self-sufficiency, but without the ability to build jets at scale, the C919 will only be a symbol and cannot make the project profitable. In this situation, the core techniques are the critical points. In recent years, the US has condemned China’s stealing of advanced technologies. If the US placed the core components of the C919 project by American suppliers on the Sanctioned Entity List, Chinese plane projects’ future are in doubt. 

The C919 project made a significant advancement in the Chinese aircraft manufacturing industry. However, while China is showing its muscle, it shows its Achilles heel at the same time. To avoid this situation and become more powerful, China would benefit most from a stable rather than a competitive environment with the US.  

Written by Eddie C.

Edited by Ari B.