US, Hong Kong airlines bend to Chinese pressure on Taiwan
By Becky Davis
Beijing hailed “positive steps” as major US airlines and Hong Kong’s flag carrier moved to comply Wednesday with its demand to list Taiwan as part of China, sparking anger on the island.
Taiwan is a self-ruling democracy but Beijing considers it part of its own territory, to be reunified by force if necessary, and is pushing to isolate the island on the international stage.
China’s Civil Aviation Administration sent notices to dozens of airlines around the world in April asking them to adhere to Beijing’s standards when referring to Taiwan, setting a Wednesday deadline to make the changes to corporate websites.
“To the foreign airlines which have undertaken the reforms, we give our approval,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a daily press briefing in Beijing, calling the changes “positive steps.”
He reiterated China’s position that foreign enterprises must “respect our sovereign and territorial integrity, and our people’s feelings.”
But Taiwan condemned what it called China’s “insolent actions” in wielding its political and economic clout in the matter.
“Taiwan’s existence in the international community is an objective fact. It will not disappear because of suppression by Chinese authorities,” Taiwan’s foreign ministry said.
US airlines in particular have come under the microscope on the issue after the White House in May scorned China’s semantic demands as “Orwellian nonsense.”
In an emailed statement to AFP, American Airlines spokeswoman Shannon Gilson said: “Like other carriers, American is implementing changes to address China’s request.”
“Air travel is a global business, and we abide by the rules in countries where we operate,” Gilson said.
American and Delta Air Lines still mentioned “Taiwan” as an entity on parts of their websites Wednesday, but the name had been wiped from some of their searches.
A simple arrival or departure airport search on American Airlines’ site listed the cities of Taipei and Kaohsiung with no reference to Taiwan. Its destination listings usually follow the template of city name, then country name.
Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific and subsidiary Cathay Dragon had previously listed Taiwan as its own entity, but as of Wednesday morning, it was called “Taiwan, China” on both its English and Chinese language websites.
Cathay said in an emailed statement that because it is registered in the southern Chinese territory of Hong Kong, “we must comply with the regulations and requirements” of China’s authorities.
– ‘Bullying’ –
Bloomberg News reported earlier Wednesday that American, United, Delta and Hawaiian Airlines all had plans to change their websites over the coming days, citing a source familiar with talks on the matter.
Some searches on Delta’s website showed no country references for destinations in Taiwan, mainland China or semi-autonomous Hong Kong Wednesday, listing them simply by their city names.
A growing number of international airlines, including Qantas, Singapore Airlines, Qatar Airways, Emirates and KLM had already changed their websites from Taiwan to “Taiwan, China”, while others skirt the issue by merely listing cities.
A customer-service representative from Hawaiian Airlines told AFP Wednesday that although they do not serve Taiwan destinations, the island is listed in its systems as “Chinese Taipei.”
Beijing has been raising the military and diplomatic pressure on Taipei as relations have deteriorated under the island’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, whose government refuses to acknowledge that Taiwan is a part of China.
It has also used its political and economic clout to woo away several of the few remaining countries that still recognise Taiwan’s government.
Taiwan’s cabinet spokeswoman Kolas Yotaka called China’s behaviour “unjust” and asked for support from the international community.
“We keep on urging the international community not to become an accomplice of China bullying Taiwan,” Kolas told reporters Wednesday.