The White House on Saturday condemned Chinese efforts to control how US airlines refer to Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macao as “Orwellian nonsense”. The harshly worded statement came as a high-level trade delegation led by the Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin returned from negotiations in China.
The carriers were told to remove references on their websites or in other material that suggests Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau are part of countries independent from China, US and airline officials said.
Taiwan is China’s most sensitive territorial issue. Beijing considers the self-ruled, democratic island a wayward province. Hong Kong and Macau are former European colonies that are now part of China but run largely autonomously.
A spokesman for Airlines for America, a trade group representing United Airlines, American Airlines and other major carriers, said the group was “continuing to work with US government officials as we determine next steps”.
In January, Delta Air Lines, following a demand from China over listing Taiwan and Tibet as countries on its website, apologized for making “an inadvertent error with no business or political intention” and said it had taken steps to resolve the issue.
Also in January, China suspended Marriott International’s Chinese website for a week, punishing the world’s biggest hotel chain for listing Tibet, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau as separate countries in a customer questionnaire.
On Saturday, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement that Donald Trump “ran against political correctness in the United States” and as president would “stand up for Americans resisting efforts by the Chinese Communist Party to impose Chinese political correctness on American companies and citizens”.
China’s Civil Aviation Administration has demanded the change from 36 foreign carriers, including some American carriers, the White House said.
“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,” Sanders said, adding that the Trump administration is calling on China “to stop threatening and coercing American carriers and citizens”.
In trade talks this week, the Trump administration demanded a $200bn cut in China’s trade surplus with the US by 2020, sharply lower tariffs and a halt to subsidies for advanced technology, people familiar with the talks said on Friday.
Trump tweeted on Friday that he would meet with US trade officials once they returned. “It is hard for China in that they have become very spoiled with US trade wins!” Trump wrote.
On Saturday, speaking at a Republican event in Cleveland, Trump said: “My group just got back from China. We’re going to have to rework China because that’s been a one-way street for decades,”.
“We can’t go on that way,” he said, although he also said he has a lot respect for Chinese president Xi Jinping.
Also on Saturday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke with a member of the Communist Party leadership. Pompeo and Politburo member Yang Jiechi “affirmed the importance of a constructive, results-oriented bilateral relationship”, state department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.