The best-laid battle plans

America both helps and hinders China’s military-industrial complex


JIANGHANG AIRCRAFT EQUIPMENT has struggled to tantalise investors with the fuel systems and detachable petrol tanks it builds for Chinese warplanes. The company, controlled by Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC), the country’s biggest aerospace-and-defence conglomerate, had witnessed its share price slump by 50% since it went public in Shanghai last year. But in the first three months of the year demand for its wares has soared. On May 28 th Jianghang said that net profit for the period nearly doubled, year on year. Trading in its shares subsequently had to be halted after their price rose by 10%, the maximum permitted one-day swing.

江航飞机装备公司此前难以用它为中国战机制造的燃油系统和可拆卸油箱吸引投资者。该公司由中国最大的航天和国防企业集团中国航空工业集团公司(AVIC,以下简称航空工业)控股,自去年在上交所上市之后股价曾下跌 50%。但今年前三个月对其产品的需求猛增。5 月 28 日,江航表示,当期净利润同比增长近一倍。随后其股价涨停(上涨达 10%,被允许的最大单日波动)。

Jianghang is just one of dozens of military-linked companies on a high. Most are not publicly traded and disclose little financial information. State-owned builders of navy vessels have flotillas of listed subsidiaries. AVIC, the main group behind China’s fighter-jet programme with more than 1 trn yuan ($157 bn) in total assets, has 24 publicly traded divisions. To get a sense of the industry analysts track dozens of small military stocks. Citic Securities, an investment bank, covers 58. Everbright, a state-owned broker, follows 115.

江航只是数十家走势喜人的军方关联公司之一。它们大多数都没有上市,并且披露的财务信息很少。国有海军舰艇制造商拥有大批上市子公司。航空工业是中国战斗机项目背后的主要集团,总资产超过 1 万亿人民币,拥有 24 个上市的部门。为了解该行业,分析师跟踪了数十只小盘军工股票。投行中信证券覆盖 58 家,国有券商光大证券跟踪 115 家。

The total weapons sales of China’s four biggest firms that make them—of which AVIC is the largest—have been flat at just over $50 bn since at least 2015, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), a think-tank, even as those of foreign rivals have grown. But if the listed divisions are a guide, things may be looking up for the sector.

根据智库斯德哥尔摩国际和平研究所(SIPRI)的数据,至少自 2015 年以来,中国四大军火制造公司(其中航空工业是最大的一家)的总军火销售额一直持平,略高于 500 亿美元,而与此同时外国竞争对手的销售额不断扩大。但如果从已上市的部门的角度来看,这个行业的情况可能正在好转。

The combined operating income of firms followed by Everbright rose by 11% last year, to 475 bn yuan. Citic reckons that net profits for the industry’s listed contingent grew by about 50% in 2020. As China’s economy boomed in the first quarter, especially compared with last year’s harsh covid-19 lockdowns, only agribusiness and miners of non-ferrous metals notched up faster year-on-year revenue growth than China’s military-industrial complex.

光大跟踪的公司去年的营业收入合计增长了 11%,达到 4750 亿元。中信估计,该行业上市公司的净利润在 2020 年增长了约 50%。中国经济在今年第一季度蓬勃发展(特别是与去年严厉的新冠疫情封锁相比),只有农业企业和有色金属矿商的同比增长超过了中国的军工复合体。

The main reason for this armsmaking bonanza is China’s increasingly chilly relationship with America. One note to investors from Huaxi Securities, a broker, was embellished with an image of two fists, draped in opposing American and Chinese flags, flying towards each other. America’s attempts to“lock China out of technological advancement”,Huaxi analysts say, is spurring new growth. Citic talks of“a period of volatility not experienced in 100 years”and predicts“a rare period of rapid development”in China’s military-industrial enterprise as a result. SIPRI noted in December that Chinese arms groups were benefiting from a programme aimed at modernising its armed forces.

这轮军火制造热潮的主要原因是中国与美国的关系越来越冷淡。券商华西证券给投资者的一封信上画着两个拳头,分别裹着美国和中国国旗,正要碰撞到一起。华西的分析师表示,美国「将中国封锁在技术进步之外」的尝试正在刺激新的增长。中信称其为「百年未有的动荡期」,并预测中国军工企业将因此迎来「难得的快速发展期」。SIPRI 去年 12 月指出,中国军工集团正受益于一项旨在实现部队现代化的计划。

The domestic market is becoming increasingly important for Chinese weapons companies. According to SIPRI, China’s arms exports declined by 8% between 2016 and 2020. At the same time, those of America, France and Germany grew. Chinese drones may be cheaper than Western ones but they are also seen as Less capable.

国内市场对中国军工企业来说变得越来越重要。SIPRI 数据显示,2016 年至 2020 年间,中国军火出口下降 8%,而美国、法国和德国的出口有所增长。中国的无人机可能比西方的无人机便宜,但也被视为能力较差。

Fusion firepower 融合火力

In an effort to change that state of affairs, and bolster domestic armsmakers in the process, Chinese officials talk up“military-civilian fusion”。This long-standing project aims to bring cutting-edge civilian technologies such as artificial intelligence and semiconductors into military supply chains, in keeping with the Communist Party slogan that“civilians and troops are members of the same household.”The idea’s manifestations include Hikvision, a state-owned maker of surveillance kit, which made 2.2 bn yuan in net profit in the first quarter, up by 45% from a year earlier.

为了改变这种状况,并在此过程中支持国内军火制造商,中国官员大谈「军民融合」。这个长期项目旨在将人工智能和半导体等尖端民用技术带入军事供应链,正好符合共产党「军民团结一家亲」的口号。这一想法的一个体现是国有监控设备制造商海康威视,该公司第一季度实现净利润 22 亿元,同比增长 45%。

Ironic, then, that the same Sino-American tensions that are boosting Chinese armsmakers may end up undermining this strategy. The idea of civilian-military fusion spooked Donald Trump’s administration and prompted it to bar American firms from supplying companies like Huawei, a giant maker of telecoms gear that is perceived as being close to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). The result has been disastrous for Huawei. Its revenues fell for the second consecutive quarter earlier this year. It is struggling to procure chips and more Western countries are shunning its 5G mobile networks.

具讽刺意味的是,正在推动中国军火制造商发展的中美紧张局势最终可能会破坏这一战略。军民融合的想法吓坏了特朗普的政府,促使其禁止美国公司向华为这样的公司供货,这家电信设备巨头被认为与中国人民解放军关系密切。其结果对华为来说是灾难性的。今年早些时候,其收入连续第二个季度下降。它在采购芯片方面步履维艰,而越来越多的西方国家正在对其 5G 移动网络避之不及。

Blacklisting by America may also deprive some defence-adjacent Chinese firms of a source of capital. Foreign ownership of military-linked stocks was thought to be low. It may soon be non-existent. Since January American investors have been barred from owning shares in China Spacesat, a state-owned Fortune 500 firm that helps run the country’s space programme. The same month Fidelity Investments, an American asset manager, confirmed to its clients that it would sell some securities as a result of sanctions.

上了美国的黑名单也可能让一些涉及国防的中国公司损失资金来源。军方关联股票的外国持股据信很低。可能很快还会降到零。自 1 月以来,美国投资者被禁止持有中国东方红卫星的股份,这是一家帮助运营中国太空计划的国有财富 500 强公司。同月,美国资产管理公司富达投资向其客户证实,由于制裁,它将出售一些证券。

Mr Trump’s successor, Joe Biden, shows little intention of easing the restrictions. On June 3 rd he tightened some of them once again on firms with ties to surveillance and defence groups. A recent paper from the Centre for a New American Security, a think-tank, noted that the Chinese leadership’s continued obsession with military-civil fusion reflects concerns that reforms to bring it about“have not progressed rapidly enough”。American military strategists would love it if China’s efforts to speed things along had the opposite effect.

特朗普的继任者拜登几乎没有放松限制的意图。6 月 3 日,他再次对与监控和国防行业有关联的公司收紧了其中一些限制。智库新美国安全中心(Centre for a New American Security)最近的一篇论文指出,中国领导层对军民融合的持续痴迷反映了对实现这一融合的改革「进展不够迅速」的担忧。如果中国欲速不达,那就正中美国军事战略家的下怀了

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