James Fallows: "China Airborne"

James Fallows: "China Airborne"

Journalist James Fallows describes China's ambitions to rival America as the world's leading aerospace power and to bring itself from its low-wage past to a high-tech future.

Last year China announced plans to invest a quarter of a trillion dollars in its aviation industry over the next five years. What coast-to-coast railroads meant for 19th century America, airports mean for China today. More than two-thirds of the new airports under construction today are being built in China - just one of the many signs of the scope of China’s ambitions and potential as it hopes to become a new leader in aviation. China’s aviation industry is analogous for its modernization goals. James Fallows joins Diane to discuss the extraordinary scale of China's plans and what they could mean, not only for the United States, but the rest of the world.


James Fallows

national correspondent, "The Atlantic."

Program Highlights

Last year, China announced plans to spend $250 billion to jumpstart its aviation industry. Author James Fallows explored the country’s potential for a modern aerospace industry in his new book, “China Airborne: The Dream of Aviation in Emerging China.” Fallows looked at whether China would continue to be a fast-moving but low-wage economy, or whether it would develop into a sophisticated economy similar to the United States, Germany and Japan.

China’s Growing Transportation Industry

China has an enormous transportation infrastructure program, from roads to high-speed rails. Most of the airports in existence or in construction are in China. Fallows said China is building more than 100 new airports right now, whereas the United States is building one or two airports. But Fallows said China’s program is “extremely ambitious and has had some real trouble in the last year,” talking about the very highly publicized high-speech rail crashes that killed lots of people.

Military Influence

The Chinese military controls nearly all the country's air space. Fallows said this is an enormous factor and problem in determining China’s modernization. He said that military reservations or security zones are blocked airspace, which leads to indirect routing and huge delays at the big airports in Shanghai or Beijing.

Training New Pilots

In China, people are screened for good eyesight and then sent to pilot school. However, Fallows said eyesight is not necessary to be a good pilot. “You can wear glasses and it doesn't indicate whether you have other aptitude for this, but so they're ramping it up.” Fallows said even though China has a high volume of universities, it lacks the marking of a great university establishment. He said Boeing, the Federal Aviation Administration and United Airlines have been training China’s engineers and teaching them how to conduct pilot inspections. Many ethnic Chinese scientists who have won Nobel Prizes do their research at Berkeley or Oxford, rather than at a Chinese institution. Fallows said this is “very, very wounding” to Chinese officials.

What Will China Be Like In 20 Years?

Fallows said no one could confidently predict what China will be like in the future. He said it could become a bigger version of what it is now, or it could become much more liberal compared to how it is now. “If so, then it will be more competitive for the United States, but in a way it'll be easier to deal with because it'll be a more open society. So the fact that we don't know is what makes it fascinating.”

You can read the full transcript here.

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