A C919 large passenger aircraft, China's first self-developed trunk jetliner, takes off from Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport in east China's Shanghai, May 28, 2023. [Photo/Xinhua]
China's first domestically made commercial aircraft, the COMAC C919, completed its maiden flight from Shanghai to Beijing on May 28. The C919, dubbed as a rival to Boeing's 737, was heralded as a breakthrough achievement for the country and a symbol of China's own technological and economic development.
Despite this, the aircraft came under attack from critics who highlighted that it still required Western-made components in its supply chain, attempting to pour cold water over China's achievements. However, it was soon pointed out that the supply chains of similar aviation manufacturers, including Boeing and Europe's Airbus, also had a vastly globalized portfolio of parts made around the world, with the former relying on 11,000 different suppliers.
These critics miss the point. First of all, if iPhone components are made primarily in China, does that mean Apple is a Chinese company? The fact China has been able to create an indigenous commercial aircraft model and compete with Western giants is a demonstration of how far China has come, demonstrating its economic rise from "low-end" simple manufacturing into high-end manufacturing. The origin of certain COMAC C919 components does not mean that it is any less of an achievement. China is no longer merely assembling goods but making its own world-leading products.
Secondly, the fact that the C919, like other aircraft manufacturers, has a globalized supply chain is a demonstration of what is described as "win-win" cooperation through global collaboration and shows what can be lost by the United States attempting to initiate policies to the contrary. Supply chains are very complex things that can span over many countries and create worldwide trading networks, integrating many fields of labor and technological niches, which often create a self-enforcing sense of "convenience" in order to bring down costs while increasing efficiency.
On this note, the C919's success reminds us that supply chains are not only global but should be kept that way. For many European and American providers, its success demonstrates the growing opportunity of the Chinese market. Why in any case, would you want to politicize this or take it away? This reality also challenges the notion, repeatedly pushed by U.S. presidents beginning with Trump, that trade ought to be depicted as a "zero-sum" game. That is, the idea that some countries "win" at the "expense" of others. This has led to a misleading comprehension that trade with China comes at a "loss" to the United States, which has spurred aggressive and counterproductive policies such as tariffs.
In doing so, the United States has also sought to forcibly "geo-politicize" global supply chains, seeking political dominance as a foremost priority, as opposed to market efficiency. In multiple industries, including semiconductors as well as solar panels, this has posed outcomes that are disastrous for American businesses. The U.S. is actively seeking to "roll back" globalization in favor of such politically orientated goals while similarly pushing little cliques such as the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEC) to do the same thing. None of it is economically beneficial.
In this case, the COMAC C919 is a rare example of what Western and Chinese businesses can create together, which contributes to mutual economic development around the world. Although Western media outlets repeatedly emphasize a "rivalry" with U.S. aircraft manufacturer Boeing, the point for China is how it continues to grow and achieve more. The aircraft is seen as a monumental achievement in China's own journey of growth over the past few decades, which has seen it excel in many areas.
The successful commercial maiden flight of the C919 marks a big step forward for China's aviation industry. The further development of China's homegrown airliners makes it possible for the country to become one of the suppliers of civil aircraft and related products and services to the world, which enables the country to engage in technological cooperation with other countries so as to achieve mutual benefit and win-win results.
Tom Fowdy is a British political and international relations analyst and a graduate of Durham and Oxford universities. For more information please visit:
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