THE Sino-British Liaison Group (JLG) has forced China Airlines of Taipei to drop the Taiwanese flag from its aircraft so that it can keep flying to the territory after 1997. Although airline chairman Chiang Hung-i flatly denied at a press conference that the move to replace the flag with a red plum blossom was politically motivated, the Sunday Morning Post has learned the JLG stated in writing all aircraft serving Hong Kong after the handover must not fly the controversial flag. Mr Chiang called the livery change an image boost after 35 years. 'The corporate identity system change is strictly in consideration of commercial viability. There is no political link whatsoever.' But Sun Huang-hsiang, director of marketing and the man in charge of the image change, had earlier acknowledged that the airline knew of the JLG demand. 'You will not see the flag on any of our aircraft . . . after they are all painted,' he said. The Post has also learned that airline officials protested about the demand, telling the JLG it was impossible to repaint all 40 aircraft by 1997. But they were told there would be no compromise. The airline said yesterday it would take three to four years to repaint its full fleet, setting the cost of the revamp - including new staff uniforms and an advertising campaign - at US$12 million (HK$92.71 million). Mr Chiang denied aircraft to be used on the Hong Kong route would be painted first, saying Beijing had given 'no indication that we should make any change'. But a senior airline official, who asked not to be identified, said priority would indeed be given to Hong Kong-destined aircraft and there was 'no possibility' the old livery would be seen at Hong Kong in 1997. Only one aircraft has been repainted so far: a Boeing 747-400 used between Taipei and Hong Kong. It was due to arrive at Kai Tak airport for the first time this morning. The livery change was also a condition for a new five-year commercial air agreement between Cathay Pacific Airways and the Taipei Airlines Association, which on July 31 set the end of this month as the final date for it to be wrapped up. While it is a commercial agreement rather than a government-negotiated deal, Beijing must give approval as it straddles the handover.