'Competition' hype over C919 won't affect China’s manufacturing upgrade
Published: Dec 26, 2023 11:54 PM
Illustration: Chen Xia/Global Times

Illustration: Chen Xia/Global Times

The C919, China's first domestically produced passenger aircraft, which made its first commercial flight in May, is again drawing attention as the year comes to a close. Air China has reportedly become the second customer for the C919, after China Eastern Airlines, and the new order was made at a higher price. 

The increasing new orders, price hikes and expedited deliveries of the C919 have significantly boosted the confidence of the domestic aviation industry. Meanwhile, the rising C919 is inevitably being compared to long-standing market leaders Boeing and Airbus. An article in the South China Morning Post entitled "China's C919 jet sold for higher price in latest deal as Boeing returns to market" and another article by the BBC entitled "China's C919 aircraft: When will it compete with Boeing and Airbus for market dominance?" highlight this comparison.

It is natural for the C919 to be compared to Boeing and Airbus in the international markets. However, it is even more important to recognize that the success of the C919 exemplifies China's determination and progress in boosting high-technology manufacturing in the face of technological restrictions imposed by the US.

Regardless of the motives behind such external comparisons or other hype, China's efforts to excel in the production of its own large aircraft will not be swayed. The continuous progress of China's high-tech manufacturing sector will also remain unaffected.

The development of large passenger planes is a concentrated reflection of a country's scientific and technological capabilities, industrial level and overall strength. The success of the C919 is an important milestone in China's large aircraft manufacturing and high-end manufacturing development, and it has profound implications for the future of large aircraft manufacturing and high-end manufacturing industries. 

Reviewing the development of the C919 after 15 years of efforts, we can see it has been accelerating breakthroughs and continuously breaking records since its significant milestone of the first successful commercial flight in May. Chairman of Commercial Aircraft Corp of China (COMAC), He Dongfeng, announced in early September that the order book for the C919 had reached 1,061 aircraft, and the delivery speed was continuously increasing.

With the rapid development of the C919, China's high-tech manufacturing industry is also growing and upgrading at an astonishing speed. In the first half of this year, high-tech manufacturing industries such as electronic information, aerospace and new-energy products have continued to drive the nation's industrial transformation and upgrading. 

The commercial operation of the C919 and the rapid development of commercial aerospace activity contributed to a 22.9 percent year-on-year increase in the value added of the aerospace and equipment manufacturing industry, according to media reports.

Industrial policies have accelerated the formation of China's large aircraft industry cluster. They've also led to a gradual increase in the prices of many domestically produced high-tech products, to levels even approaching or matching the prices of high-priced Western goods. This reflects the transformation and upgrading of China's manufacturing industry.

At the end of the year, the news of the C919's price increase highlights the rapid development of China's high-tech industry in 2023. In 2024, technological suppression by the US and the West is expected to continue, but China's efforts in developing the high-tech industry will not waver. 

It hasn't been all smooth sailing for the C919, and it has faced doubts and pessimism from the outside world. For example, many Western media outlets claim that China's domestically produced large aircraft still rely on key components from Europe and the US, and there is hype that, in the increasingly tense geopolitical landscape, there is a constant risk of being "technologically strangled." 

Faced with such pessimism and speculation, China will not be deterred or swayed by "competition hype." The development of China's domestically produced large passenger planes is not about replacing competitors like Boeing, but about how to drive the overall upgrading of the manufacturing industry through the development of large aircraft. 

This includes cooperation and coordination in supply and industry chains, as well as innovation. China's steady efforts will undoubtedly render futile any attempts by the outside world to contain or undermine it.

The author is a reporter with the Global Times.