Taipei may hit back at airlines that complied with ‘Taiwan, China’ demand

Transport ministry said to be mulling ‘countermeasures’ such as barring use of boarding bridges and adjustments to take-off and landing slots

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 07 August, 2018, 12:01am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 07 August, 2018, 12:44am

Taiwan’s transport ministry is said to be considering “countermeasures” against foreign airlines that have yielded to Beijing’s demand that they refer to the island as part of China on their websites.

In addition to barring them from using passenger boarding bridges at airports, the carriers could also be subject to random adjustments to their take-off and landing slots by air traffic controllers as Taipei tries to apply pressure on them, a Taipei-based newspaper reported on Monday, citing an unnamed ministry source.

Meanwhile, carriers that took a more neutral approach to the request from Beijing – by just dropping the country name from their Taiwan destinations – would be given incentives such as reduced or no landing fees and facilities charges, according to United Daily News.

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On April 25, Beijing issued an order to 44 international airlines that operate mainland routes to stop listing Taiwan as a country on their websites and instead refer to it as “Taiwan, China” or the “China Taiwan region”. It also wanted the airlines to display Taiwan on their maps in the same colour used for mainland China. The White House described the demands as “Orwellian nonsense”.

Four US carriers – American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines – removed any reference to Taiwan, using only city names on their booking pages. Hong Kong’s airlines changed the reference to “Taiwan, China”, while many international carriers also complied with the demand.

Beijing sees Taiwan as a part of its territory awaiting reunification, by force if necessary, even though the island views itself as a sovereign nation and is a self-ruling democracy.

Taiwanese transport minister Wu Hong-mo said Taipei could not accept such an arrangement and would have to take “countermeasures”, according to United Daily News. The newspaper then quoted an unnamed ministry source giving details of what those countermeasures might include.

The report drew criticism from academics and opposition lawmakers in Taiwan, who described the measures as “absurd”, saying they would create huge inconvenience for passengers and could lead to retaliatory action from countries whose airlines had been targeted.

But government spokeswoman Kolas Yotaka said any countermeasures were just at the discussion stage within the transport ministry and had not been decided on.

“We haven’t received any proposals from the ministry about how to deal with this case, and as the government, we have to consider the rights and interests of our people,” she said, adding that causing inconvenience to passengers would go against government policy.

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Deputy transport minister Wang Kwo-tsai said the ministry had written to the airlines asking them to go back to their original way of referring to Taiwan, but it had yet to decide how to deal with the issue if they did not comply.

American Airlines, Emirates and Cathay Pacific did not respond to requests for comment. A Korean Air spokesman said the airline had not received any notification from Taiwan’s transport ministry about possible countermeasures, while a Singapore Airlines spokesman declined to comment, saying its communications with the regulators were confidential.

Additional reporting by Ernest Kao and Danny Lee