oday marks China’s deadline for foreign airlines to “correct” their references to Taiwan or face the consequences. After holding out for months, the few airlines that continued to defy the order are now busily altering their websites to avoid incurring Beijing’s wrath.
Back in April, the Civil Aviation Administration of China sent out a notice to 44 foreign airlines, demanding that they remove any reference on their websites or in other promotional materials which suggest that Taiwan is a country separate from China. Since then, dozens of airlines have complied with the order, while others asked for extensions — mostly US-based airlines, namely, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, and Hawaiian Airlines.
China has not said exactly what punishment airlines will face if they do not comply with the order, however, officials have stressed that there will be a price to pay. Yesterday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang declared that there is no space for negotiation when it comes to the “one China” policy. He added that he hopes the US government will advise its country’s carriers to follow the Chinese government’s request, otherwise the companies will have to “wait and see” what sort of punishment awaits them.
Back in May, the Trump Administration had called China’s demand “Orwellian nonsense” in a strongly-worded response to the move by Beijing. However, it appears that the White House has since had a change of heart. Reuters reported yesterday that the US State Department had informed the Chinese embassy that US airlines will begin referring to destinations in Taiwan simply by the city’s name.
On Tuesday afternoon, Hawaiian Airlines became the first domino to fall, removing any reference to Taiwan from its website. The airline does not fly to the island itself, but, through a partnership, it does help sell tickets for China Airlines’ Taipei to Honolulu route.
“We’re a business with significant international activities and we need to deal with regulations in all of those jurisdictions,” the airline’s CEO told Reuters on Tuesday. “And obviously sometimes that can put us in challenging positions in one jurisdiction versus another.”
Hawaiian Airlines does operate its own route to Beijing.
By Wednesday morning, American Airlines had also succumbed to pressure from Beijing. A search for flights to Taiwan on the airline’s website now brings up only the name of airports, with no mention of Taiwan:
Similarly, searches for flights to Taiwan on Delta’s website show only the name of cities:
The airline has done the same thing for destinations in China:
When it comes to destinations in other countries, the names of the countries are always listed:
United Airlines has used the same method for destinations in both Taiwan and China:
While these changes are less severe than “Taiwan, China” (from Lufthansa) and “Chinese Taipei” (from Air India), they still come as yet another heavy blow for Taiwan, which has become Beijing’s veritable punching bag this year, losing diplomatic allies and even having its flag painted over on an Australian bull statue.
Earlier today, Taiwan’s foreign affairs ministry responded to this latest setback by tweeting out that China’s tactics were “an affront to rules-based order.”
#China’s pressuring of airlines to delete #Taiwan from their websites is an affront to rules-based order. Taiwan is a much-valued democracy & this fact cannot be erased. The leaders of China claim to want to win the hearts & minds of Taiwanese. Such actions demonstrate otherwise.
— 外交部 Ministry of Foreign Affairs, ROC (Taiwan) 🇹🇼 (@MOFA_Taiwan) July 25, 2018