U.S. Airlines have bowed to pressure from the Chinese government and have removed references to Taiwan it was announced this week. The airlines had been asked to stop listing the island as a separate nation from mainland China.
China’s Civil Aviation Administration sent a letter in May to foreign carriers, including airlines in the United States, demanding the removal of any reference to Taiwan, Hong Kong or Macau being independent of China.
The territories are an extremely sensitive subject for China. They consider them to be a part of China-proper with Taiwan, despite self-governance, being a province. Hong Kong and Macau are former European colonies. Control over them was handed back to the Chinese in the late 1990s.
The CAA has in the past required foreign airlines that fly into China to conduct extensive investigations into their websites to make sure that the three countries are not listed as independent of but rather a part of China.
The Trump administration criticized the move at the time calling the demands “Orwellian.”
“President Donald J. Trump ran against political correctness in the United States. He will stand up for Americans resisting efforts by the Chinese Communist Party to impose Chinese political correctness on American companies and citizens,” a statement from the White House read.
“This is Orwellian nonsense and part of a growing trend by the Chinese Communist Party to impose its political views on American citizens and private companies…We call on China to stop threatening and coercing American carriers and citizens.”
A group of eight U.S. Senators including Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) lobbied the CEOs of American and United Airlines to not give in to the demands. Taiwan is “a democracy and important partner to the U.S.,” they said.
Taipei’s economic and cultural office in the U.S. also pleaded with the airlines to stand up to China.
The U.S. government would subsequently ask China to negotiate their demands, but to no avail.
American, Delta and United all announced this week that they would agree and remove references to Taiwan. While not going so far as to declare Taipei a part of China, they did stop referring to Taipei as being located in Taiwan. Taipei is Taiwan’s capital.
American Airlines now lists Taipei as “TPE-Taoyuan International,” changing the reference to the main airport in Taiwan from “TPE, Taiwan.” Along the same lines, Delta switched to “TPE Taipei” and United to “Taipei (TPE-Taoyuan).” The carriers also dropped “Taiwan” from search results.
“Like other carriers, American is implementing changes to address China’s request. Air travel is global business, and we abide by the rules in countries where we operate,” said Shannon Gilson, a spokeswoman for American.
U.S. carriers were seen as being in a no-win situation as China has become an extremely important air-travel market. The International Air Transport Association, a global airline trade association, predicts China will become the world’s largest air-travel market by 2022, according to The Associated Press.
U.S. airlines also have more direct financial ties to the country. American Airlines owns almost 3% of China Southern Airlines, while Delta owns about 3.5% of China Eastern Airlines.
By conceding to Beijing’s demands, industry analysts say U.S. carriers lose face but retain both the ability to do business in that market and positioning for future growth.
The Chinese government applauded the decisions, calling them collectively, “positive progress.”
Foreign businesses are welcomed to do business in China if they “abide by Chinese laws and regulations, sovereignty and territorial feelings, and the feelings of the Chinese people,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told the AP.
By Wednesday’s deadline, all forty-four global airlines that had been asked to remove references to Taiwan had agreed to do so Chinese state-run media said. Popular global carriers such as British Airways, Lufthansa and Air Canada all complied.
The Trump administration seemed to be taken by surprise by the carriers’ decisions and criticized them for making them.
“I was not aware that the companies said that they would fold to the Chinese government,” said State Department Spokeswoman Heather Nauert.
Photo by LoadedAaron via Flickr