International airlines give in to Chinese pressure, change how their websites refer to Taiwan

American Airlines, Delta and United Airlines were the last international carriers to change how they refer to Taiwan on their websites hours before a deadline imposed by China expired on Wednesday.

world Updated: Jul 25, 2018 17:35 IST
Taiwan,China,International airlines
China did not specify how it would punish those carriers which did not change how they refer to Taiwan but had indicated that it could restrict access to its aviation market, the second largest in the world now and set to become the largest in the coming years. (File photo)

The last three of the 40 international airlines have finally buckled under Chinese pressure not to refer to Taiwan, which Beijing treats as a breakaway province, as an independent country on their websites.

American Airlines, Delta and United Airlines were the last international carriers to change how they refer to Taiwan on their websites hours before a deadline imposed by China expired on Wednesday.

China did not specify how it would punish those carriers which did not change how they refer to Taiwan but had indicated that it could restrict access to its aviation market, the second largest in the world now and set to become the largest in the coming years.

The demand from China had earlier been described by Washington as “Orwellian nonsense”.

The last three joined a list of international airlines – including India’s national carrier, Air India – which now refer to Taiwan as either Taiwan, China or Chinese Taipei, exactly the way China wants it.

Beijing also opposes diplomatic ties between the Taipei and other countries.

Taiwan now has diplomatic ties with only 18 countries around the globe – India, which follows the “one China policy”, is not among the 18.

The ministry of foreign affairs (MFA) on Wednesday welcomed the move without naming any specific airline.

Calling it a “positive development”, MFA spokesperson, Geng Shuang said: “We certainly hope that when they operate in China, they must respect China’s laws and regulations, respect China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and respect the feelings of the Chinese people.

“There is no room for negotiation or consultation when it comes to the One China principle,” Geng said.

On April 25, the Civil Aviation Authority of China (CAAC) sent a letter to dozens of foreign airlines, requesting changes to the way they refer to Taiwan on their websites and in marketing literature within July 25.

Several carriers including Air Canada, Singapore Airlines, Japan Airlines and Lufthansa had fallen in line earlier.

American Airlines spokeswoman Shannon Gilson told the BBC that it was following the laws of the country it operates.

“Like other carriers, American is implementing changes to address China’s request. Air travel is a global business, and we abide by the rules in countries where we operate”.

On the diplomatic front, the United States opposed the Chinese diktat to the airlines.

“We have told China that the United States strongly objects to China’s attempts to compel private firms to use specific words of a political nature in their publicly available content,” a US embassy spokesperson in Beijing was quoted by the Washington Post as saying.

Earlier this year, the US clothing company GAP had to apologise for selling t-shirts with a map of China which didn’t show Taiwan.

The international hotel chain Marriott had its Chinese website briefly blocked for listing the Tibet Autonomous Region, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau as separate countries in a questionnaire for customers.

First Published: Jul 25, 2018 17:33 IST