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Aviation

Beijing unimpressed by United Airlines’ ‘flexible’ approach to Taiwan

Ministry says foreign companies should stick to ‘common consensus’ on one-China principle after airline lists Taiwan and Hong Kong by currencies

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 30 August, 2018, 9:00pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 30 August, 2018, 10:46pm

China’s foreign ministry on Thursday said no one could violate the “one China” principle, referring to United Airlines listing Taiwan and Hong Kong by their currencies to get around Beijing’s demand to identify them as part of China.

It came after state-run tabloid Global Times attacked the carrier for “attempting to fool Chinese”.

United Airlines now lists “New Taiwan Dollar”, “Chinese Yuan” and “Hong Kong Dollar” among destination names such as Indonesia, Japan and New Zealand on its website, after the mainland aviation regulator demanded all carriers identify self-ruled Taiwan, as well as semi-autonomous Hong Kong and Macau, as part of China.

Responding to a question at a press briefing about the airline’s move, which was praised by Taipei, ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying repeated Beijing’s stance that there was only one China, and that Taiwan is part of it.

“This is the common consensus in the international community, and all foreign companies in China should stick to that,” Hua said. “No one can step away from the basic principle of one China, no matter how hard they try to be flexible.”

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Beijing sees Taiwan as a renegade province subject to eventual reunification, by force if necessary, after the civil war that ended in 1949. In recent years, the mainland has become more sensitive about how international companies handle its “one China” principle as it ramps up pressure on the island.

Despite the White House dismissing the Civil Aviation Administration of China’s (CAAC) demand as “Orwellian nonsense”, major airlines changed their references to Taiwan by the July 25 deadline.

But late on Wednesday, nationalist tabloid Global Times published an article – headlined “United Airlines, don’t think about outsmarting China on this” – criticising the carrier for its “unwillingness” to make the change and saying it was playing word games.

The article came after Taiwan thanked the airline for its “flexibility” in using currency names to obscure its position on “one China” or “Taiwan independence”.

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“Internet users have exposed new evidence of United Airlines’ unwillingness [to comply],” the article said, adding that United Airlines was one of the last to take action on the CAAC’s demand and it still was not clearly referring to the island as “Taiwan, China” as requested.

The day before, the newspaper took aim at Swedish furniture giant Ikea for violating the “one China” principle by treating Taiwan and Hong Kong as countries on its packaging. That report came after images were circulated on social media showing Ikea product labels that gave Taiwan country status by listing it alongside the likes of India, South Korea and the Philippines.

Cross-strait ties have been strained since Tsai Ing-wen, from the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party, became president in 2016 and refused to accept the “1992 consensus” that there is only one China and that Taiwan is part of it, which Beijing says forms the basis of ties between the two sides.