(Adds comment from United)
(CNSNews.com) – U.S. airlines are moving to comply with China’s requirement that they stop treating Taiwan like a separate country, falling in line with a demand which the White House has labeled “Orwellian nonsense.”
Wednesday marks the deadline given by the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) when it sent a formal notice to several dozen foreign airlines last April, instructing them to ensure that information on their website does not state or imply that China and Taiwan are separate.
A number of major airlines complied with the CAAC instruction, but as of this week U.S. carriers had not been among them.
Hours ahead of the deadline, Delta’s website still listed “Taipei, Taiwan” and three other cities in Taiwan among destinations for it and its partner airlines.
But that changed early Wednesday afternoon, China time, when the word “Taiwan” disappeared from the site, leaving just the word “Taipei,” followed by a dangling comma.
(Delta also identifies the Tibetan capital Lhasa as “Lhasa, China,” a shift from earlier this year when it angered the CAAC by listing Tibet among countries on its website, prompting the civil aviation authority to demand an “immediate correction and public apology.” China has occupied Tibet since 1951.)
United’s website was still presenting the destination as “Taipei, TW” (rather than “Taipei, CN”) or in some cases, simply as “Taipei.” In a drop-down list of destination airports, Taipei was still listed under “Taiwan,” not under “China.”
The American Airlines site gave just the city’s name, with no country. A trip planner map on the American Airlines site includes the names of all of the countries in the region – except for Taiwan.
CNSNews.com sent queries to the three airlines about their decisions.
“Like other carriers, American is implementing changes to address China’s request,” said American Airlines spokeswoman Shannon Gilson. “Air travel is global business, and we abide by the rules in countries where we operate.”
“United Airlines has begun to roll out changes to its systems to address China’s requirements,” said spokesman Koji Nagata.
“United abides by and respects local laws and regulations in all markets and jurisdictions where we operate and conduct business. United flights to mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan will continue to operate normally.”
A spokeswoman for Delta referred queries to the Airlines for America (A4A) industry group, which she said was “speaking on behalf of all affected U.S. carriers.” Queries to A4A brought no reply by press time.
On Tuesday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang insisted the government views the issue as “non-negotiable,” and when asked whether the authorities would punish non-complying carriers, for instance by barring them from flying to China, he replied, “let’s wait and see.”
Geng also called on the U.S. government to urge the airlines “to observe the one-China principle and rectify the relevant websites as soon as possible.”
The communist government views Taiwan, a thriving democracy of 23.5 million people, as a renegade province that will ultimately be reincorporated into the mainland. A controversial law adopted in 2005 provides for the use of military force if necessary to prevent the island’s formal breakaway.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert on Tuesday said she had not heard that the U.S. carriers planned to comply – or in her words, “fold to the Chinese government” – but she reiterated the administration’s view on the matter.
“We would oppose a government’s demand on private corporations that private corporations label something the way that the government demands it, to do that,” she said.
In May, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders called Beijing’s demand an attempt to “impose Chinese political correctness on American companies and citizens.”
“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,” she said at the time.
Sanders said the U.S. called on Beijing “to stop threatening and coercing American carriers and citizens.”
Its “efforts to export its censorship and political correctness to Americans and the rest of the free world will be resisted,” she added.
In response to those remarks, Geng of the Chinese foreign ministry said that “regardless of what the U.S. says,” it was an “objective” fact that “there is only one China,” and Taiwan is an “inalienable” part of it.
The U.S. view of the situation across the Taiwan Strait has long irritated Beijing.
Although the U.S. has full diplomatic relations with Beijing and only quasi-diplomatic one with Taipei, successive administrations have interpreted the “one-China” policy in a deliberately ambiguous way, underlining the need for a peaceful solution and for neither side to unilaterally change the status quo.
China meanwhile uses its diplomatic and economic weight in an efforts to ensure the international community respects its stance on what it calls a “core interest” issue.
In one recent example, China has sought to punish Palau, a tiny Pacific island nation, for being one of a diminishing handful of countries that recognize Taiwan.
China had been an important source of visitors to Palau, but Beijing last year announced a ban on tour operators visiting the island, forcing its tiny airline to suspend its services this month.
Taiwan’s foreign minister, Joseph Wu, told CNN this week that China’s behavior is counterproductive, given its claims to want to win over Taiwanese to embrace the notion of reunification.
“They say they want to win the hearts and minds of the Taiwanese people,” he said. “However, what they are doing – military intimidation or diplomatic isolation tactics against Taiwan – what the Chinese government is doing to Taiwan is to create hatred among the regular Taiwanese people toward the Chinese government.”
That approach, Wu said, “is pushing Taiwan further and further away.”