Some Airlines Are Ignoring the White House to Obey China’s Demands on Taiwan

May 22, 2018

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Airlines around the globe are obeying diplomatic demands from Beijing regarding its claim on Taiwan — despite the White House’s vocal protests on the matter.

China claims Taiwan as part of its nation and publicly disputes any company or entity who says (or lightly implies) otherwise. After a civil war in 1949, Taiwan separated from China and became a democracy in the 1990s. Although the US does not formally recognize Taiwan’s capital, Taipei, it legally must respond to threats to the self-ruled island and is its principal supplier of foreign military goods.

Companies around the world that have alluded to the fact that Taiwan is separate from China have been in diplomatic hot water with Beijing before. Airlines are no different. Beijing gave international airlines a deadline to show on their websites that Taiwan is part of China or they could face fallout with business dealings in China and legal sanctions. That deadline is fast approaching — just three days away.

Beijing wants carriers around the world to make their online dropdown menus for flight bookings to state “Taiwan, China” instead of “Taipei, Taiwan,” for example.

China is a huge aviation market for airlines around the world and is only growing. China is predicted to displace the US as the largest aviation market by 2022, according to analysis from the International Air Transport Association.

Earlier this month, the White House called the push from China “Orwellian nonsense.” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Beijing’s overture was “part of a growing trend by the Chinese Communist Party to impose its political views on American citizens and private companies.”

“President Donald J. Trump ran against political correctness in the United States,” Sanders continued in a statement. “He will stand up for Americans resisting efforts by the Chinese Communist Party to impose Chinese political correctness on American companies and citizens.”

According to the White House, Beijing sent letters to major US airlines serving Taiwan — United Airlines, American Airlines, Delta and Hawaiian Airlines — demanding they change the website headings to reflect Taiwan (along with Hong Kong and Macau) were regions of China.

So far, no US airlines have buckled to China’s request — but they told the AP they are still reviewing the request.

Beijing sent letters to a total of 36 foreign airlines at the end of April demanding the Taiwan headings be changed. An investigation by the AP found that at least 20 airlines around the world have made such changes to their websites.

Air Canada, Lufthansa, British Airways, Finnair, Garuda Indonesia, Asiana Airlines, and Philippine Airlines have changed the way they refer to Taiwan to reflect that it’s part of China. SAS, SWISS, Malaysia Airlines, Cebu Pacific Air, Aeroflot, Italy’s Alitalia, Austrian Airlines, Air Mauritius, Etihad Airways, Spain’s Iberia, Israel’s EL AL, MIAT Mongolian Airlines and Russia’s S7 Airlines also show Taiwan as part of China, but it wasn’t clear if they had made the changes after receiving the letter from Beijing, the AP said.

US airlines have tangled with Beijing over the issue before. In January, Delta publicly apologized for referring to Taiwan as a self-ruled state, saying it was sorry for “emotional damage caused to the Chinese people.” The next day, the Chinese Civil Aviation Administration published a notice online saying foreign airlines operating in China must not refer to Taiwan, Hong Kong or Macau as independent states.

Other American companies, including the Gap and Marriott, have publicly apologized for referring to Taiwan as its own country.


Featured image by Lucas Schifres/Getty Images.

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