On July 1, Airbus confirmed the signing of orders for 292 A320 Family aircraft with Air China, China Eastern, China Southern, and Shenzhen Airlines. This purchase disappointed Boeing, the biggest U.S. exporter. 

Reasonably, China conducted ‘aircraft diplomacy’ again, just the day after ‘the NATO 2022 strategic concept’ first identified the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) as a “systemic challenge.”

Remarkably, on the evening of July 1, China Southern Airlines, Air China, and China Eastern Airlines announced major orders for purchasing 292 A320NEO passenger aircraft from European Airbus for 37.257 billion dollars. The orders would be delivered between 2023 and 2027.

Operations on the European purchase were confirmed despite the ups-and-downs of China’s economy, also affected heavily by the harsh Zero-Covid policies.

As Reuters reported in 2021, airlines have incurred significant losses, which stand at 67.09 billion yuan (nearly 10.4 billion dollars). 

Earlier, the Chinese finance ministry announced subsidies to Chinese airlines from May 21 to July 20 to help the airlines after the COVID-induced downturn and higher oil prices. 

Specifically, the maximum grant would be 24,000 yuan (3,574 dollars) per hour for loss-making flights. Cash support will only be provided when average weekly domestic flight numbers are less than 4,500, and average load factors are lower than 75%. 

In the first quarter of 2022, the financial loss for China Eastern Airlines was 7.8 billion yuan (1.18 billion dollars). Beijing-based Air China reported a quarterly net loss of 8.9 billion yuan (around 1.4 billion dollars), its largest since records began in 2008. 

On June 24, one week before the signing of the latest significant order, Airbus and Suzhou Industrial Park signed a framework agreement to build the Airbus Suzhou R&D Center. 

Bloomberg cited a Boeing spokesman on July 4, “It is disappointing that geopolitical differences continue to constrain U.S. aircraft exports.” America’s top exporter is Boeing.

It is worth mentioning that China’s economic development started with America’s support. In fact, China found better relations with the U.S. thanks to ‘aircraft diplomacy’. 

In February 1972, Former President Richard Nixon visited China, and U.S.-China relations thawed. One of the CCP’s gestures to show favor to the United States was to order 10 Boeing 707s that July. In November 2018, Boeing delivered its 2,000th aircraft to China. 

In the speech on China Trade Bill in 2000, Former President Bill Clinton asked for Congressional support for China’s WTO inclusion. He said: “Last fall, as all of you know, the United States signed the agreement to bring China into the WTO on terms that will open its market to American products and investments.” Then, China joined the WTO gradually in 2001.

Aircraft diplomacy seems to be still in force. Observers think this move could retaliate against the U.S. after the NATO 2022 Strategic Concept was issued at a meeting in Madrid on June 29. 

The document directly references China’s ambitions and coercive policies, saying that China’s “malicious hybrid and cyber operations and its confrontational rhetoric and disinformation target Allies and harm Alliance security.”

Moreover, this purchase could aim at getting closer to the European Union. According to Reuters, Europe announced it would invest 300 billion euros to counter China’s Belt and Road Initiative on June 26. 

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