MAJOR US airlines have caved under pressure from Beijing to only refer to Taiwan as a Chinese province on their websites and flight schedules.
The White House called the demand “Orwellian nonsense” but that didn’t stop American Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines making the required changes. According to Reuters, Delta and United Continental are also expected to comply, after coordination between the carriers and the US government.
Taiwan has long been a sensitive subject for China with Beijing threatening reprieve should the island territory attempt independence. But a recent string of efforts from Beijing to demean Taiwan’s international identity and presence on the world stage has intensified in recent months.
The decision on the part of the airlines comes in response to a letter sent by the Civil Aviation Administration of China on April 25. It addressed 44 airlines saying they had violated the one-China policy and would face “severe consequences” if they did not remove references on their websites and in other material that suggested Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau were independent territories.
It is just one of several crafty-tactics Beijing has used to undermine Taiwan. Others include blocking Taiwan’s representatives – even its journalists – from participating in the World Health Organisation’s annual assembly in Geneva.
China has also ramped up its efforts to wrest back the dwindling number of allies that recognise Taiwan as an independent country – these include Burkina Faso and the Dominican Republic – leaving Taiwan with only one ally in Africa – Swaziland.
According to South China Morning Post, American Airlines changed its website on Wednesday morning. Previously it referred to “Taipei, Taipei Taoyuan Airport (TPE), Taiwan”. A day later, the same search produced “Taipei Taoyuan Airport (TPE).”
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The four airlines had been hoping for a negotiated resolution between the US and Chinese governments ahead of China’s Wednesday deadline.
“We’re a business with significant international activities and we need to deal with regulations in all of those jurisdictions,” Peter Ingram, Hawaiian’s chief executive officer, told Reuters on Tuesday. “And obviously sometimes that can put us in challenging positions in one jurisdiction versus another.”
Numerous major non-US airlines including Air Canada, Lufthansa and British Airways have already made changes to their websites to avoid Chinese penalties.