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Aviation

Australia’s Qantas will ‘meet requirements’ of Beijing’s request about Taiwan references

Carrier has been given extra time to make the changes because of IT issues

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 June, 2018, 11:29pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 June, 2018, 12:44am

Australia’s Qantas is the latest airline to bow to demands from Beijing to refer to Taiwan as being part of China.

Foreign airlines in recent months have been ordered to respect China’s territorial claims and not give the impression that Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau are independent territories in a letter sent to 36 foreign carriers by the Civil Aviation Administration of China in April.

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At the International Air Transport Association (IATA) annual meeting on Monday, Qantas said it planned to comply with Beijing’s request.

“Our intention is to meet the requirements,” said Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce on the sidelines of the summit in a direct response to a question by the Post.

Alison Webster, chief executive of Qantas’s international airline business, rejected any suggestion that its change in policy was influenced by the airline’s partnership with China Eastern Airlines, one of the nation’s big-three state-owned carriers.

“I don’t think the relationship makes any difference to how we review our response,” she said.

Changes would be made, Qantas said, but they were being delayed by IT issues, which was why Beijing last week granted the airline an extension to comply.

Webster said Qantas needed extra time because “we have some complexity to work through”.

China does not recognise self-rule in Taiwan and has spent years trying to isolate Taiwan diplomatically.

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It has never renounced its claim to the island, where the defeated Nationalist forces fled in 1949 after the Communist victory in the civil war, and it is still a sensitive subject on the mainland.

Cathay Pacific chief Rupert Hogg told the audience at the IATA meeting that when it came to the question of being asked to describe Taiwan as part of China, he said “we are compliant with all the regulations everywhere we fly”.

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For an audience unfamiliar with the governance structure of Hong Kong, Hogg stressed: “We are a Hong Kong Special Administrative Region airline in China.”

The Post understands Cathay has made subtle changes when describing flights from mainland China to Taiwan or Hong Kong, by just specifying the cities on the route. For example, flights are from Beijing to Taipei or from Shanghai to Hong Kong.

On its website, Air Canada described changing its Taiwan policy as a “difficult and sensitive decision” but insisted it had no choice other than to comply with the Chinese government. The airline’s CEO, Calin Rovanescu, told an audience at the IATA summit that it was not making a political statement.

The Canadian carrier, which stopped flights to Taiwan in 2002 only to resume them last summer with nonstop service between Vancouver and Taipei, appealed to the island’s residents: “We have tremendous respect for Taiwanese people, and Taiwanese people in Canada.”

Doug Parker, head of American Airlines, the world’s biggest carrier, told reporters on Sunday that the airline was going to follow the US government’s instructions on Taiwan and not Beijing’s.