US Airlines Cave to China’s Demands on Taiwan References

Jul 25, 2018

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The three US legacy airlines — United, Delta and American — succumbed Wednesday to demands from Beijing that airlines around the world stop referring to Taiwan as an independent nation on their websites.

The three US carriers’ websites simply list the island’s capital, Taipei, as a destination without referring to Taiwan at all.

Other international airlines wholly obeyed Beijing’s push to refer to Taiwan as a Chinese territory, listing “Taiwan, China” as a destination they serve.

The mandate from the Civil Aviation Administration of China pushed 44 international airlines to refer to the independent zones of Taiwan, Macau and Hong Kong as parts of China in April. The demands flummoxed the White House and US airlines.

United, Delta and American all asked Beijing for an extended timeframe to make a decision on the matter as they grappled for a response with the US government. China agreed to give them until July 25 to make the changes or suffer legal sanctions and other consequences for their business. Chinese officials said on Tuesday there would be “no room for negotiation” for the US carriers on the references.

Financial disruptions in the China market could have major repercussions for the airlines’ bottom lines. China is predicted to displace the US as the largest aviation market by 2022, according to analysis from the International Air Transport Association.

Meanwhile, Washington called the orders from China “Orwellian nonsense” in May. White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said the push from Beijing was “part of a growing trend by the Chinese Communist Party to impose its political views on American citizens and private companies.”

Despite the White House’s apparent opposition, seemingly all the international airlines complied with the changes Chinese officials demanded.

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, according to the Associated Press. SAS, Swiss, Malaysia Airlines, Cebu Pacific Air, Aeroflot, Alitalia, Austrian Airlines, Air Mauritius, Etihad Airways, Iberia, 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.

Two Japanese airlines, ANA and Japan Airlines, skirted the issue by making the changes only to the Chinese versions of their websites.

Chinese officials lauded the airlines’ capitulations as “positive progress.” Foreign businesses are welcome in China if they “abide by Chinese laws and regulations, sovereignty and territorial feelings, and the feelings of the Chinese people,” Geng Shuang, spokesman for the nation’s foreign ministry said to the AP.

Taiwan separated from China in a civil war in 1949 and is a self-ruled island, but Beijing still makes claims on it as a Chinese territory.

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