US airlines bow to Chinese pressure on Taipei

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July 25, 2018
American miami boost
Photo: American Airlines

They waited for the 11th hour but US airlines are bowing to Chinese demands that they no longer refer to the Taiwanese city of Tapei as part of a separate country.

American Airlines on Tuesday night changed its website from Tapei, Taiwan, to Tapei Songshan or Tapei Taoyuan airports without mentioning the country.

US media reported that Delta Air Lines and United Airlines were also changing their websites.

Hawaiian Airlines was among a host of carriers to have already made the change. That list included Air India, Qantas, Lufthansa, British Airways and Air France-KLM.

US airlines have been taking a keen interest in China as travel between the two countries continues to increase.

American last year announced a $US200million equity investment in Guangzhou-based China Southern that brought together two largely complementary networks and gave American a foothold in a burgeoning Chinese market.

READ: China Southern wants to deepen American relationship.

Delta has a 3.55 percent stake in Shanghai-based China Eastern and is poised to help the Chinese carrier set up operations at Beijing’s giant second airport, Daxing, when it opens in 2019.

The reaction of airlines targeted by the Chinese demand has varied.

Airlines such as Qantas, British Airways and Lufthansa, for example, refer to Taipei, Taiwan, China.

But Japanese carriers Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways have tried a different approach by removing country labels from all East Asian destinations on their websites, according to the Nikkei Asian Review.

This meant China, Taiwan and Hong Kong are listed under the heading “East Asia”, a strategy also adopted by Korean Air Lines.

The airlines made the change after strong protests from Taiwan about the use of the label Taiwan, China.

The website changes are the result of letters sent to airlines earlier this year by the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC).

The CAAC demanded the carriers removed references on websites or in other material that suggested Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau were independent of the Asian superpower by July 25.

In a letter to United cited by The Washington Post, the CAAC demanded the US carrier change its website to label Taiwan “Chinese Taiwan” or “Taiwan: province/ region of China”.

It also demanded that United must use the same color on its maps for China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau.

Failure to comply would see the company’s violation reported to the National Cyber Information Office and other law enforcement agencies.

The letters prompted a bluntly-worded retort from the Trump Administration in May, with White House press secretary Sarah Sanders labeling it “Orwellian nonsense”.

Sanders said it was part of a growing trend by the Chinese Communist party to impose its political views on American citizens and private companies and called on Beijing  “to stop threatening and coercing American carriers and citizens”.

A spokesperson for China’s  Foreign Ministry, Geng Shuang, replied that the US comments would not change the fact there was only one China in the world and “Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan regions are an inalienable part of China’s territory”.

“China will continue to handle its relations with other countries in accordance with the one-China principle,’’ Geng said at the time. “In the meantime, we have to point out that foreign enterprises operating in China should respect China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, abide by China’s law and respect the national sentiment of the Chinese people.”