US airlines make concessions on Beijing’s demand to refer to Taiwan as part of China
American Airlines and Cathay Pacific Airways are among the last across the line in making changes to their websites
Major US airlines and all Hong Kong carriers have changed references to Taiwan on their websites, responding to Beijing’s demand that the self-ruled island be identified as part of China.
American Airlines and Cathay Pacific Airways were among the last airlines to make changes to their websites on Wednesday, the deadline for compliance with the request from the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC).
The US carriers removed any reference to Taiwan, retaining the airport name in booking pages, while Hong Kong’s airlines added “Taiwan, China” or similar references on websites.
In a move described by the White House as “Orwellian nonsense”, Beijing demanded in May that foreign firms, and airlines in particular, not refer to Taiwan as anything other than a Chinese territory on their websites.
“Like other carriers, American is implementing changes to address China’s request. Air travel is global business, and we abide by the rules in countries where we operate,” American Airlines said in a statement.
On Tuesday night, the American Airlines website referred to “Taipei, Taipei Taoyuan Airport (TPE), Taiwan” in the “search flights” function. By Wednesday morning, the same search produced “Taipei Taoyuan Airport (TPE)”. Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines made the same changes.
However, Delta and United still referred to Taiwan, with no reference to China, in the option to select the country, region and language on the website.
The US carriers had been hoping for the United States and Chinese governments to negotiate a resolution ahead of the deadline. As the final day neared, the American companies gave few signs that they would balk at Beijing’s demands, risking unspecified sanctions.
Beijing sees Taiwan as part of its territory awaiting reunification, by force if necessary, even though the island views itself as a sovereign nation.
All four Hong Kong-based passenger airlines – Cathay Pacific and sister carrier Cathay Dragon, Hong Kong Airlines and Hong Kong Express – added “Taiwan, China” to various sections of their websites.
Taiwan is a key area of business for Cathay Pacific Airways and the Hong Kong carrier is the biggest foreign airline to the island.
In additional changes to its website, the “country/region” selection which previously showed country and language options individually now show “China – Mainland, Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan regions” in a dedicated section.
A Cathay Pacific spokeswoman said its two airlines were part of Hong Kong in the People’s Republic of China. “We must comply with the regulations and requirements of the relevant civil aviation authorities,” the spokeswoman said.
Numerous non-US airlines including Air Canada, Lufthansa, British Airways, Qantas, Air France and KLM have already made changes to their websites.
In a letter this year, CAAC told 44 foreign carriers to remove references on their websites and other materials that suggested Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau were part of countries independent from China, but several US operators, including Delta and United, had requested more time to handle the matter.
Skirting the controversy, Japan Airlines now allows customers to choose “city and language” on the airline’s website landing page, instead of “region and language”, with Hong Kong, Taipei and Beijing listed under “East Asia” on the booking page. Korean Air and Asiana Airlines now list destinations by city and airport.
A senior US government official said the change was ultimately the airlines’ choice.
China’s foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shu
ang said on Wednesday that the changes by the airlines were “positive progress”.
Additional reporting by Bloomberg and Reuters