By Ruth Bayang
Northwest Asian Weekly
China says there will be “no room for negotiation” in its demand that U.S. airlines describe self-ruled Taiwan as part of China.
And it appears that U.S. airlines have caved.
The showdown had been looming for months. The Chinese government wrote to more than 40 international airlines earlier this year, demanding they remove from their websites any information that suggests Taiwan is not a part of China, by July 25.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang did not specify how China would punish defiant carriers, saying only that it will “wait and see.”
Late on July 24, Bloomberg reported that U.S. airlines will change their websites “to reflect China’s claim on the island territory” of Taiwan, rather than risk any kind of retaliation.
American, Delta, United, and Hawaiian had been hoping for a negotiated resolution between the U.S. and Chinese governments ahead of the deadline. But that didn’t happen.
American Airlines spokeswoman Shannon Gilson said, “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.”
If airlines didn’t comply, China could have jeopardized their access to a market of roughly eight million U.S.-China flights annually already facing heavy international competition.
Earlier this year, China blocked Marriott websites and apps for a week in the country after the company listed Tibet, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan as separate countries in emails and apps.
Marriott issued a profuse public apology over the matter and conducted a full review of its Chinese website and apps.
Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways managed to circumvent taking a position on the relationship between Taiwan and mainland China entirely. They removed country labels from all East Asian destinations on their websites — they previously distinguished among destinations in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong.
Now, only city names are listed under the heading of “East Asia,” which also includes South Korea.
The White House previously criticized the Chinese demand as “Orwellian nonsense.”
But international airlines, and other global brands, are caught in a bind. It’s vital for their business that they stay in China’s good books.
The International Air Transport Association forecast last year that China would surpass the United States as the world’s top aviation market by 2020.
From where I sit, it looks to me like China is small-minded, petty, and mean-spirited — in short, a bully.
Shame on China for forcing conformity through coercion and veiled threats.
And shame on all the airlines for allowing the Communist party line to dictate how you conduct your business, and putting profit before principles.
Ruth can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.