Beijing Shuts Down US Talks on Airline Dispute Over Taiwan

Jun 28, 2018

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The People’s Republic of China has rejected a request from the US State Department to hold talks over Beijing’s demands for US airlines to refer to Taiwan as a Chinese territory on their websites.

New reports say that in late May, the State Department sent a letter to China’s Foreign Ministry asking for a consultation on the issue. China refused that diplomatic request on June 25, a US official told Reuters.

“This has definitely become a foreign policy issue,” an official told Reuters of the refusal to hold talks on the issue.

Earlier in 2018, China sent letters to at least 36 airlines around the world demanding that they change all references that alluded to the fact that Taiwan was its own self-ruling country. Beijing would like all destination drop-down menus, for instance, to read “Taiwan, China” instead of “Taipei, Taiwan,” for instance.

The White House called Beijing’s request “Orwellian nonsense” and that the push from China was “part of a growing trend by the Chinese Communist Party to impose its political views on American citizens and private companies.”

Among the airlines that received the letters, at least 20 airlines made changes to their websites regarding Taiwan, research by the Associated Press found at the end of May.

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.

In the US, the big three legacy carriers — Delta, American and United — all received the letter, too. So far, it seems that none of the three have given in to the overture from Beijing.

Earlier this week an American Airlines spokesperson told TPG that the carrier had asked for and received a 60-day extension for its final decision in May. The new deadline for a decision is July 25. It is a safe bet that both Delta and United did the same thing.

A Delta spokesperson told TPG earlier this week that the airline is “reviewing the Civil Aviation Administration of China’s request and will remain in close consultation with the U.S. Government throughout this process.”

Likewise, American said is was “consulting with the U.S. government on the matter.”

United could not be reached for comment on the issue.

The airlines’ and State Department’s next moves are unclear, but on Wednesday the White House held a staff-level meeting about the situation to begin to hash out a plan.

H/T: Reuters

Featured image by Lucas Schifres/Getty Images.

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