CHINA is where competition between Boeing and McDonnell Douglas, who are reported to be in merger talks, has been fiercest as they battle for supremacy in the world's fastest growing aviation market. It was in the mid-1980s that mainland authorities approached the two to manufacture jets in China for use by its airlines. Boeing and Douglas fought it out for years to win the contract, but it was not until 1991 that Douglas was declared the winner, with projects to build dozens of MD82s and later MD90s. Douglas officials admit today that they were the ultimate losers, as Boeing was allowed to continue working with the airlines rather than the authorities. Douglas' new China president, General John Fugh, said recently: 'I think it did work against us a little bit, but we're trying to catch up. 'We were precluded from marketing our products from Long Beach and created a vacuum for our competitors.' Today, Boeing has some 240 aircraft flying in China, while Douglas has fewer than 50. A similar situation exists in the rest of Asia, where Boeing is king in aircraft sales. It was crowned earlier this week when Singapore Airlines announced that it was ordering 77 Boeing 777 aircraft in a deal valued at US$12.7 billion. Excluding China, well over 700 Boeing aircraft have been sold in the Asia-Pacific region, and several hundred more - excluding the Singapore deal - are on order. Boeing's customers include every major airline in the region. McDonnell Douglas, in comparison, has fewer than 100 aircraft placed with the region's airlines. The military sector is where Douglas makes its money, and the company has sold F18 aircraft to Malaysia and the F15 to Japan. Boeing has no military aircraft sales in Asia. In terms of personnel in the region, neither has any significant presence. Boeing has a corporate office in Tokyo and a spare parts distribution centre in Singapore, but neither manufacturer employs great numbers of staff. Sales are done from their headquarters in the United States. Douglas, which for years had a regional office in Hong Kong, recently moved it to Beijing. Both manufacturers have a small number of staff in various Chinese cities. And they both have announced their intentions to set up maintenance, distribution and pilot-training centres on the mainland in a bid to capitalise on the country's booming aviation market. Boeing and Douglas agree Asia will be the world's fastest growing aviation region over the next 20 years, with Boeing calling for 7.1 per cent growth each year and Douglas 8.3 per cent. An estimated 4,000 new aircraft are forecast to be bought by the region's carriers to 2014.