Boeing is finally going to China. The American aerospace giant will build its first overseas airliner assembly plant in China, state news agency Xinhua reported Wednesday. As part of the deal, Boeing also will sell 300 new aircraft to three Chinese companies.
Boeing has not yet issued a statement. Nor has the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, the union that represents more than 33,000 workers at the company’s longtime manufacturing base in Washington’s Puget Sound region.
The move is Boeing’s latest step away from its home in the Pacific Northwest -- something it has pinned, in part, on high labor costs. More than a dozen years ago, the company moved its corporate headquarters to Chicago; in 2011, it opened an assembly plant near Charleston, South Carolina, where it now builds the 787 Dreamliner jet. Since 2013, Boeing has shed 6,800 jobs from Washington, although the state still hosts about half of the corporation’s 160,000-person workforce, according to SEC filings.
Observers also say the company’s pivot to China is driven by its rivalry with Airbus. Like Boeing, Europe’s top aerospace manufacturer has set up shop in the American South. Seeking new markets and friendly business environments, it cut the ribbon on a shining new factory in Mobile, Alabama, last week. And it, too, has a manufacturing presence in China: In July, Airbus signed a deal for a second Chinese factory. The firm already has an assembly plant in the northeastern port city of Tianjin.
China is expected to add more than 6,000 new aircraft worth $950 billion to its commercial fleet within the next two decades, according to Boeing. The new plant in China will manufacture a model of Boeing's 737 passenger jets. "China's rapidly growing aviation market plays a crucial role in our current and future success," Chairman Jim McNerney said in a statement last week.
Chinese President Xi Jinping is visiting Boeing’s factory in Everett, Washington, Wednesday. Some employees there are gearing up for a protest. In contrast to the United States, there are no independent trade unions in China. The International Labor Organization, an agency of the United Nations, recognizes the right of workers to join and form unions of their choice.