Connecting the Pixels

At the time of the 30th anniversary of China's reform and opening up, Aviation Industry Corporation of China (abbr. AVIC) is founded after thoroughgoing changes, and embarks on its march to building new aviation, big aviation and strong aviation.

During this great journey, AVIC implements and fulfills scientific development principle, commits to contribute to the nation with aviation industry, strengthen the military forces and enrich the people and carries out the philosophy of commitment and integrity, innovative and preeminent and exerts itself to realize core competitiveness… management and technology to the new branding, business model, and integrated network. AVIC takes great effort to promote Market-oriented reform, center-of-excellence-based integration, capital operation, globalization-based development, and industrial-scale-based growth and challenge the revenue target of one trillion by the end of 2017.

--Aviation Industry Corporation of China (2000)


Like most cinematographers and photographers, Dad would often hold his hands up--two opposing L shapes--to create a frame. Through this frame, he would zero in on whatever image fascinated him at that moment. And in trying to explain a situation that had troubled him that day or week or year (whether in politics or on the set or in the film industry in general), he'd often end with: "See what I mean? Get the picture?"

And so as I blog and try not to get overwhelmed by all the offshore / Made in China hubbub out there, I find myself creating a small frame in my mind. It's as if I'm holding up my hands, trying to focus on what it is that I'd like to convey. Today there are three seemingly disconnected news items in a couple of papers. But to me they belong in the same frame.

The first news item: Apple Inc unveiled its highly anticipated iPad 2 yesterday. According to the Silicon Valley Mercury News, CEO Steve Jobs strode onto the stage "with a bounce in his step" (he's on his third medical leave from the company; battling pancreatic cancer). The awe-struck crowd gave him a standing ovation. Jobs, ever the salesman, "touted the success of the first iPad. Apple sold 15 million iPads in the device's first year, 'hauling in $9.5 billion in revenue,' he noted." Mr. Jobs spoke for over an hour, "boasting of the device's improvements…among them a sleeker design…thinner by a third and driven by a new more powerful chip." How nice. But while Apple's questionable labor in Shenzhen cranks out iPads…

The second news item, taken from The Wall Street Journal reports: "The state-run company behind China's stealth fighter agreed to buy Minnesota-based private aircraft maker Cirrus Industries, Inc--a small deal that highlights the expanding ambition of China's aerospace industry…The deal…would give the Chinese company access to Cirrus's technology, which includes a small jet in development." Anyone else feel a chill run through them just now? It gets better. Apparently China Aviation Industry Corp. (AVIC)--yes, the same aforementioned "state-run company" that will acquire the Minnesota-based aircraft maker--would also like to {yikes} bid on U.S. defense contracts. In a truly astonishing partnership, AVIC is already {double yikes} "working with California-based U.S. Aerospace Inc. to offer a replacement for the helicopter fleet used by the president. The companies also are in talks to offer AVIC's L-15 trainer jet to the U.S. Air Force. AVIC in 2009 created a joint venture with General Electric Co. to produce avionics--the electronic brains of an aircraft--for civilian planes."

Partnering with China in such ventures has national security "implications" (ya think?), so the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) will meet to assess the situation. There's a possibility the Cirrus-AVIC deal could unravel. Let's hope CFIUS pulls the plug. With helpful, trusting partners like G.E. in China's back pocket ("civilian" planes, indeed) is our national security doomed? Meanwhile, WSJ also reports that this past November AVIC won its first 100 orders for a plane "that would compete with single-aisle jetliners from Boeing Co." Oh my. But there's more…

Third news item: WSJ reports Coda Holdings "expects to start selling its first all-electric car in the U.S…the California start-up uses Chinese manufacturing and battery technology to make inroads in the challenging U.S. electric-vehicle market." Coda is headquartered in Santa Monica but "the bulk of its operations" are in China. The company has raised "about $200 million in financing."

Look, I'm just this SF area writer, slogging along, reading my morning paper, thinking about the things my Dad used to say. I know I'm just an amateur when it comes to all this business-related information. But I keep thinking about how Dad used to worry that, with offshore manufacturing, our country was "giving away the store." Well, it certainly sounds like that's what we're doing. I understand multinational corporations are the wave of the future. I just don't understand where our country's own identity fits into that business plan.

If an American corporation aligns itself with a {dare I say communist?} regime like China's, isn’t it then part of China's regime? If that corporation's investment dollars (Coda, G.E.) and its revenues (Apple) are shared with China, isn't it funding China's rise? And at the same time, don't those funding dollars disappear from our shores? Don't they become what my Dad called "missing capital"? Missing capital that could've created jobs here in the U.S.?

Earlier I mentioned creating a mental picture frame. Here’s what I see: It's a group shot, with Apple Inc, Coda Holdings, and G.E. Of course China's there, too, standing right in the middle. One big multinational family. The Americans are smiling and China's not. Today's post leads off with a quote from state-owned Aviation Industry of China. If you read it, China's purpose seems clear. It will "march to building new aviation, big aviation, strong aviation." It will "strengthen the military forces." Since 2000, when that statement was written, China has only grown stronger. Are we--American corporations and consumers--enabling them? I am saying all this as a reminder to myself. This pledge to buy products made here at home isn't just a silly "resolution." It's a way to help our country find its way back to itself. Know what I mean? Get the picture?