BEIJING — China inked a giant aircraft contract with European manufacturer Airbus on Thursday, as German Chancellor Angela Merkel began a visit with European leaders increasingly competing for market share in the world’s second-largest economy.
Merkel’s trip comes between a high profile visit to Great Britain by Chinese President Xi Jinping earlier this month, when he stayed at Buckingham Palace in London, and ahead of a trip to China by French President Francois Hollande next week.
China is the European Union’s largest trading partner and several major EU countries — including Germany, Britain and France — are wooing the country in the hope of winning business and becoming hubs for the growing overseas trade of China’s yuan currency.
The competition has made for awkward moments between the countries and the United States, China’s greatest geopolitical rival, including their decisions to join Beijing’s Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank despite Washington’s opposition.
Observers question whether the increased investment comes at the cost of softening stances against human rights abuses by the Asian giant, which has used political access as a cudgel to punish countries that criticize its behavior.
However, Merkel, who met with both the Chinese president and Premier Li Keqiang in Beijing on Thursday, also held talks with human rights activists on the first day of her trip to China, her spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said.
“At the end of the first day of her visit, Chancellor Merkel met members of Chinese civil society: human rights lawyers, writers and bloggers,” Seibert tweeted. No details were given on the activists she met.
One Hundred Airbus A320s
Airbus and state-owned China Aviation Supplies Holding Group signed a deal Thursday for 100 A320 aircraft, a spokesman for the manufacturer said, worth $9.7 billion at list prices.
They also confirmed 30 options for twin-aisle A330s, which were among a 75-plane deal announced in June ahead of a visit by Li to Airbus headquarters in the French city of Toulouse.
Airbus — which has an assembly facility in the northern Chinese port of Tianjin — is engaged in a fierce struggle with Boeing for dominance in the crucial Chinese market.
During Xi’s visit to the Unites States last month, Seattle-based Boeing announced a record purchase of 300 aircraft worth around $38 billion.
China is expected to add 6,330 new aircraft worth $950 billion to its commercial fleet by 2034, Boeing said in August in its annual China Current Market Outlook.
By Becky Davis
Airbus Ramps Up A320 Output, Profits
AIRBUS: PARIS — In related news, Airbus announced Friday it will ramp up production of its best-selling A320 jet as overall profits climb sharply and international sales remain “healthy.”
In a sign of Airbus’ confidence in its financial position, the group also revealed it is launching a 1.0-billion-euro ($1.2 billion) buyback of its own shares.
Citing a robust commercial aircraft market, Airbus said it was increasing monthly output of the popular single-aisle A320 family to 60 in mid-2019 from just over 42 now. The Airbus prediction eclipses that of Boeing, which aims to raise monthly output of its single-aisle 737 from 42 now to 52 in 2017.
Airbus has also signed a letter of intent in a 750-million euro ($800 million) deal to sell 100 of its versatile H135 twin-engined helicopters, often used in medical emergencies, to China, a source close to the matter said Friday.
Airbus said group net profit rose 42% from a year earlier to 376 million euros in the three months to September 30 as it reaped the benefit of strong sales and a firm dollar.
The Toulouse, France-based group said sales rose 6% to 14.1 billion euros ($15.5 billion) in the three months. The figure is still substantially less than the $25.85 billion in sales reported by Boeing in the same period.
BOEING: WASHINGTON, D.C. — Israel’s flag carrier El Al announced Thursday that it has ordered as many as nine 787 aircraft from Boeing and will lease six more from private leasing firms. The catalogue price value of the new orders from Boeing is about $2.2 billion.
Boeing will record three of the planes on its official orders list and the others will be added as El Al and Boeing finalize commitments, the two companies said. El Al said the orders are both to replace aging aircraft and further expand its fleet.
El Al currently operates an exclusively Boeing fleet of 22 737s, seven 747s, seven 767s and six 777s.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2015