A Boeing plant in Renton, Wash., in 2015. (Matt Mills McKnight/Reuters) (Matt Mcknight/Reuters)

China’s air safety authority was one of the first to ground the Boeing 737 Max 8 jetliner after the recent devastating Ethiopian Airlines crash. Some have questioned the motivations of China’s Civil Aviation Administration. The Boeing plane is, after all, on a list of goods to be purchased should the United States and China agree to end their trade war.

But assume that China’s motivations were actually powered by a concern for passenger safety, and the story becomes more interesting. And there might be a moral, too.

The agency that helped China turn around what used to be a horrendous air safety record was none other than the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, which was criticized around the globe for acting slowly after the March 10 disaster. In fact, the United States has historically played an outsize role not only in flight safety but also in bringing air travel as a whole to China. From the start, flying in China has been a Sino-American affair.

The story of Chinese air travel begins in 1929 with the founding of the China National Aviation Corporation (CNAC). American plane manufacturer Curtiss-Wright took shares in CNAC early on. CNAC began flying passengers from Shanghai up the Yangtze River to China’s then-capital of Nanjing and on to the industrial powerhouse of Wuhan, known then as China’s Pittsburgh.

During World War II, U.S. and Chinese aviators teamed up as the Flying Tigers, a paramilitary outfit secretly approved by the Roosevelt administration to fight the Japanese before Washington declared war on Tokyo after the attack on Pearl Harbor. U.S. and CNAC pilots were the first to fly “the hump,” taking essential supplies and ammunition on a perilous flight over the Himalayas from then-British India to the isolated nationalist Chinese government in Chunking.

After the U.S. rapprochement with China in the 1970s, American pilots and air experts returned to China. Boeing weaned the Chinese off their rickety Soviet-era passenger jets. Still, China’s flight safety record was atrocious. As the joke went, the Chinese Aviation Airline Company stood for China Airlines Always Crashes.

In 1997, Chinese airlines began applying for approval from the FAA to fly from China to U.S. cities, opening up routes that today carry 23,000 people daily between the two countries, according to Bureau of Transportation statistics. U.S. officials asked for briefings on China’s flight safety protocol. What they discovered alarmed them.

In the early 1990s, there were a dozen airplane accidents in China. Botched landings left hundreds dead. Mechanics broke the autopilot system of one plane on June 6, 1994, causing it to crash minutes after taking off. All 160 people onboard died.

These disasters prompted the FAA, and some U.S. airlines, to act. Decades after Americans and Chinese teamed up to bring air travel to China, they coordinated to make China’s skies some of the safest in the world.

In a program funded partially by Boeing and United Airlines, and staffed by former U.S. officials, pilots and technicians, Chinese aviators and ground crews attended seminars, training sessions and a flight school in the southwestern Chinese city of Kunming to improve flight safety. Dozens of American companies, from engine manufacturers to the makers of cockpit equipment, contributed time and personnel. Within several years, the Chinese government rewrote its civilian aviation safety procedures, integrating the U.S. and Chinese civil aviation establishments, despite tensions on other fronts.

After an accident in 2004, a Chinese plane did not go down until 2010, when a bad landing left 42 people dead. Since then, no fatal accidents have occurred. All this was accomplished as China’s air traffic skyrocketed. Today it is second only to the United States. As the then-director of China’s flight safety Yang Yuanyuan told the Wall Street Journal in 2007, China improved because it decided to “adopt a more open attitude” to viewing its own mistakes.

Perhaps it’s time for the FAA to learn from its former student, China.

Read more:

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The Post’s View: Trump finally did the right thing on airplane safety — but got there the wrong way

Daniel W. Drezner: The 737 Max and the changing world politics of regulation

Matthew L. Wald: In aviation, safety comes in numbers. And there are thousands of Boeing 737s.