In a major victory for China’s Government, the final three of 44 international airlines told to change the way they refer to the self-governing island of Taiwan have complied just before a deadline expired.
- China threatened punishment for airlines that refer to Taiwan as a country
- American Airlines, Delta and United Airlines have now complied with demand, joining Qantas and 40 others
- Taiwanese MP says China’s action is “brutal, one-sided” and will push Taiwan further away
American Airlines, Delta and United Airlines all dropped references to “Taiwan” on their websites to meet the July 25 deadline imposed by Beijing — a demand previously described by the US government as “Orwellian nonsense”.
Qantas was among the airlines targeted in a Chinese Civil Aviation letter earlier this year that threatened punishment for carriers that refer to Taiwan as a country, breaching China’s laws.
Qantas confirmed it would comply with Beijing’s demand, and now lists cities like Taipei and Kaohsiung as being part of Taiwan, China.
Qantas chief Alan Joyce defended the move at the time, noting Australia adheres to a One China Policy that recognises both the mainland and Taiwan as belonging to one country.
But China’s assertiveness earned a rebuke from Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, who said governments shouldn’t “threaten the ordinary operations of business”.
Some other airlines have responded to Beijing’s demand by dropping references to countries altogether and just listing cities for destinations.
“I don’t think the US carriers ultimately had any choice,” said Tom Ballantyne, chief correspondent with Orient Aviation Magazine.
“The Chinese market is simply too important.”
China’s ‘brutal, one-sided’ action ‘counterproductive’
China’s foreign ministry applauded the airlines’ changes on Wednesday as “positive progress”.
Chinese authorities had not specified what punishments international carriers could have faced for ignoring the demand, but indicated it could jeopardise their access to what is expected to be the world’s largest aviation market within five years.
In Taiwan, an MP with the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, Lo Chih-Cheng, described Beijing’s move as a “brutal, one-sided action” that create a “vicious cycle”.
“China wants to use methods like changing Taiwan’s name to push Taiwan closer to China, but the result is the opposite — it will make Taiwan drift further and further away — it’s counterproductive”, he told the ABC.
The pressure on airlines is just the latest measure Beijing is using to further marginalise Taiwan’s international presence.
In recent months, China poached two of Taiwan’s remaining diplomatic allies, leaving just 19 small or impoverished countries that recognise the government in Taipei.
Just this week, Chinese pressure forced the East Asia Olympic committee to suspend a youth games planned next year for the Taiwanese city of Taichung.
It is believed Beijing was furious that NGOs and private citizens had begun a push for a referendum on whether the national sporting team should call itself Taiwan, instead of Beijing’s preferred Chinese Taipei.
“It will make the younger generation in Taiwan build up their hatred against China rather than winning their hearts,” said Alexander Huang, a professor and former deputy government minister.
China’s successful campaign to dictate the wording used on foreign airline websites follows a series of apologies this year from companies that “hurt the feelings” of the Chinese people.
In January Chinese authorities shut down hotel chain Marriot’s Chinese website for a week for listing Hong Kong and Tibet as countries in an online survey.
Clothing retailer Zara was also forced to change its website for breaching China’s standards on referring to Taiwan.
Mercedes-Benz also apologised in February for quoting the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama in what was supposed to be a motivational Instagram post.
China regards the Dalai Lama as a dangerous separatist.
By Bill Birtles