Let cool heads and pragmatism prevail

The dispute that followed the Civil Aviation Authority of China reminding foreign airlines not to infer that Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan are countries separate from China is an unnecessary provocation that only complicates already challenging relations

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 May, 2018, 5:10am
UPDATED : Sunday, 13 May, 2018, 5:10am

China lists Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan among its regions, so companies inferring that they are “countries” should abide by mainland law.

A reminder by the Civil Aviation Authority of China to 36 foreign airlines to amend their listings or face unspecified penalties therefore ought to have been a drama-free process.

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But the tough stance towards Beijing taken by United States President Donald Trump’s administration has resulted in a politically charged atmosphere and a heated row has broken out. Cool heads and pragmatism should instead prevail.

A number of airlines were quick to comply, just as in January when the Cyberspace Authority of China (CAAC) pointed out a similar oversight on websites operated by firms including Marriott International and Zara.

With business interests in mind, common-sense changes were promptly made, among them adding a comma and the word “China” after the place name.

But with a trade dispute initiated by Trump under way, not all American carriers have been so cooperative this time.

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United Airlines forwarded the letter it received from the CAAC to the White House, which responded by calling the demand “Orwellian nonsense” and told Beijing to “stop threatening and coercing American carriers and citizens”.

The Foreign Ministry was obliged to respond, saying that foreign companies must “respect the national sentiment of the Chinese people”. It was a reference to rising nationalistic pride among many in China, expressed on social media in volumes that cannot be ignored.

Such firms also are obliged to abide by the laws and regulations of the nation, which require respect for sovereignty. The same is true for Chinese companies doing business overseas.

There is nothing unusual about the CAAC’s requirements and the mistakes are easily fixed. The United Nations air transport body, the International Civil Aviation Organisation, does not identify Hong Kong, Macau or Taiwan as countries.

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But the Trump administration has seized on the issue and mixed it with the trade row. It also has seemingly become part of a changed US approach towards Taiwan.

us Such provocations are unnecessary and only complicate already challenging relations.