The Political Economy of Industrial Policy in China: The Case of Aircraft Manufacturing
Since 1960, only one new country, Brazil, has succeeded in delivering more than one civil jet per month. Otherwise, all the countries now offering world-class planes were established in aviation by the end of World War I. This being said, low-cost producers within several of the newly emerging markets have already acquired front-end manufacturing expertise as a direct result of industrial offset contracts and/or other forms of technology transfer. In all such cases, government intervention, notably through state ownership, has been predominant, but failures have been numerous in view of the difficulty of aligning ownership structure to financial, managerial, and technological requirements and of garnering the support of domestic interest groups. In this paper the focus is China’s efforts to build a world-class aircraft manufacturing industry. In the first half of the 1990s the potential of the Chinese industry to mount a competitive challenge to Western aircraft builders was largely discounted. Nowadays, as China strives to bear the ARJ-21 project to execution and even considers entering the market for wide-bodies, the threat is taken more seriously. The growth in the Chinese air transport market has reinforced the bargaining power of national aircraft producers and authorities are giving priority to building science and technology capacity in this area. Progress in creating military/civilian synergies has proven much more modest – especially when compared to the shipbuilding industry – and better coordination in the overall industry comes a distant fourth in the explanations’ peaking order.
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