Abstract: Controlling Globalism's Reach: The Anglo-American Aviation Embargo of Communist China and the Downfall of British Aerospace

Jeffrey A. Engel


British aviation entered the 1960s in crisis. Their lead in jet aviation lost with the demise of the Comet airliner, with production costs up and revenues down, British policymakers and aircraft makers each sought new markets to sustain their industry until new, more competitive models could take flight. They focused on the People's Republic of China, a market wholly devoid of American competition. This paper uses the experience of British and American aerospace corporations, and British and American archival records, to reveal Britain's initially successful—though ultimately fruitless—efforts to sell advanced commercial aircraft to Beijing despite vigorous American opposition. To win this market, the British government authorized Vickers Aviation to sell American-licensed aerospace equipment to Beijing despite Washington's clear ban on the practice. To sell in China, in other words, and more broadly to aid Chinese industrialization, London purposefully violated American laws. This paper explores the Viscount sale, demonstrating how fear of American retribution ultimately destroyed Britain's chances for monopolizing this potentially vast market. It shows how economic warfare theories and multilateral and national restraints on Cold War business affected international corporations, limiting globalism's reach through the air.