Is it an either/or for EADS? Can the world’s number two aerospace company only succeed in dominating the fast-developing Chinese market for airliners, helicopters and homeland security, at the expense of its North American ambitions?
Last week’s announcement of a Chinese order for 150 Airbus A320 family aircraft and Eurocopter’s plan to build a helicopter in a joint venture with Chinese industry typified everything Americans find slightly sinister about European motives in the People’s Republic. Conducted in French, the occasion had all the hallmarks of a political carve-up rather than a hard-won commercial deal. It might be airliners and air ambulances today, say these stateside cynics. But with European governments keen to find markets for their defence champions and unwilling to pay more for their own defence, tomorrow it could be attack helicopters or early-warning systems.
This is a difficult perception for EADS to shake. Despite all its efforts to be treated as a serious player in the USA, its emphasis on China – and the worries about military technology transfer – is certain to prompt its US competitors to lobby to make it harder for EADS to breach the defences of Fortress America’s military budget.
EADS – and its government sponsors – must go on making it clear its intentions in China are honourable and legal. But given the turbulent state of transatlantic relations, it may not be an easy job to convince the doubters.