BEIJING -- "Excuse me for my frankness," said Andy Wei, pouring another cup of tea in his top-level Beijing office, "but American media report little about China."
"Whenever someone comes to visit from the U.S. or Europe, they always see things that are different from what the media tells them, if they're told anything at all. People will ask me if Deng Xiaoping is president. They don't know Hu Jintao. They know about bird flu, SARS. They don't know China."
Andy Wei knows China. He heads the Beijing office of Goodrich, a supplier for Boeing and other companies that has something on nearly every airplane made today. Wei's been at Goodrich and predecessor, pre-merger companies since shortly after he left the Chinese Air Force for 18 years in 1991. He started in the Air Force as a translator, and he still translates -- China to his bosses in America, America to his employees in China.
Aviation has symbolic importance for China, he says. "It's an industry that has involvement from all other industries -- electrical, mechanical, materials, everything." That's part of why aviation is so tough to get off the ground in China, he said -- a plane is only as strong as its weakest part. Planes have lots of parts. China has lots of weaknesses.
It's leadership is also, he added, somewhat misguided in its hope for technology from the West. "China expects to make big aircraft with foreign suppliers, and that's not reality," he said. The country's best hope, he said, is to become a valuable supplier for companies that are already making big aircraft -- work like that Goodrich is doing for Boeing in China.
Wei contrasted the success Western-based suppliers in China are having with AVIC-controlled companies. He maintained that the Western companies are getting more out of the Chinese labor force, with better management and better technology imported from abroad.
State-run companies, he said, are still locked in "iron rice bowl" inefficiencies from the days of guaranteed jobs at low wages. A machinist in Xi'an may make a dollar an hour with AVIC, but twice that with a Western-based supplier. As a result, better workers go to companies like Goodrich -- the West still gets cheap labor, but China's indigenous aviation doesn't improve much as a result.
"In machine trades, the Chinese are two decades behind Russia and four decades behind the West," he said. "This is my personal opinion."
That said, Wei still said China will inevitably take jobs now done in other countries, due to low labor costs and improving industry.
"It's not China's decision" to get jobs, he said. "Businesses will need to do it to stay competitive. It's the basic structure of the international economy. If China can do something of high quality and cheaper, then why do it in the U.S.? These are the laws of fair competition."
Outsourcing is global reality everywhere, he said. "Singapore used to be strong in shipbuilding. Now that's shifted to South Korea and China. Singapore concentrates on IT and services. If they compete in shipbuilding, they fail. Americans and Europeans must also adapt to change."
But he said he wonders if they will -- if they're informed enough about economics to understand the basics of global development. And that brought him to his original point.
"I don't think Americans are informed about what's happening here, the good that's happening here. This country is underdeveloped, and it needs growth," he said. "This is fair competition, and you can't stop that."