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Since the beginning of March, a notable trio of 737 Max aircraft left Boeing’s factory in Renton, Wash — each one destined for an airline in China. It’s the first time since Boeing resumed production of the Max last May that the company has rolled-out new 737s for the country.

The emergence of the jets for Air China, Xiamen Airlines and Kunming Airlines represent the first real sign that the aircraft may be nearing re-clearance inside Boeing’s most important market. Without mentioning China specifically, Boeing Chief Executive David Calhoun said in January the company expected “the remaining non-US regulatory approvals [for the Max]…during the first half of 2021.”

Read: 737 Max recertification risks becoming pawn in U.S.-China fight

Yet this industrial progress on the shores of Lake Washington may be far less important than tenuous political progress during the first face-to-face meeting between the new Biden Administration’s senior-most diplomats and their Chinese counterparts. The summit was the first direct opportunity for the world to gauge a shift, if any, in the relationship between the U.S. and China after the four tumultuous years of the Trump Administration.

A newly-built Xiamen Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 sits on Boeing's flight line in March 2021. Photo credit Woody's Aeroimages.

A newly-built Xiamen Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 sits on Boeing’s flight line in March 2021. Photo credit Woody’s Aeroimages.

Whether intended symbolism or not, China’s delegation landed in Anchorage, Alaska last week aboard an Air China Airbus A330-300 — not a 787 or 737. During the public meeting, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken pressed China on its “deep concern” in regards to human rights in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, cyber attacks and Taiwan. Chinese foreign affairs chief, Yang Jiechi shot back that “the United States does not have the qualification to say that it wants to speak to China from a position of strength.”

In short, it didn’t go well.

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Jon Ostrower is Editor-in-chief of The Air Current. Prior to launching TAC in June 2018, Ostrower served as Aviation Editor for CNN Worldwide, guiding the network's global coverage of the business and operations of flying. Ostrower joined CNN in 2016 following four and half years at the Wall Street Journal. Based first in Chicago and then in Washington, D.C. he covered Boeing, aviation safety and the business of global aerospace. Before that, Ostrower was editor of the award-winning FlightBlogger for Flightglobal and Flight International Magazine covering the development of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and other new aircraft programs from 2007 to 2012. Ostrower, a Boston native, graduated from The George Washington University's School of Media and Public Affairs with a bachelor's degree in Political Communication. He is based in Seattle.

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