In late April, the Civil Aviation Administration of China sent a formal notice to 44 foreign airlines, asking them to list Taiwan as part of China on their websites. After an extension was granted, the foreign airlines had until today, July 25, to revise their websites. As the deadline approached, all eyes were on how the US airlines would refer to the Chinese island of Taiwan on their websites from here on.
Some background: The civil aviation authority sent the request on April 25, asking the airlines to stop labeling the Chinese territories of Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macao as “countries” within 30 days. By May 25—the initial deadline, twenty-six of the 44 airlines applied for extensions due to technical reasons, and the airlines were given until July 25. Only six of the airlines had yet to revise their websites by July 23.
It was not long before the remaining airlines followed suit. Numerous non-US airlines, including Air Canada, Lufthansa, and British Airways had already made changes to their websites.
Reuters reported on July 24 that all the major US carriers were expected to change how their websites refer to Taiwan before the deadline. Later on Tuesday, Hawaiian Airlines had removed mention of Taiwan from its website. And the next day, American Airlines had followed suit.
In the end, all the major US carriers that fly to China made the right choice.
A check of American’s website on Wednesday, Beijing time, showed that it no longer lists the name Taiwan. Only the airport code and airport name is listed in the search results.
A check of Delta’s website at around 1 pm on Wednesday, Beijing time, showed that it also stopped listing the name Taiwan on its website. Before the change, Taiwan was listed after the city name.
Hours after Delta revised its website, United changed its website, too. Similar to Delta, the website only lists certain city names.
At regular press briefing on Tuesday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang reiterated the position that there is no room for negotiation in China’s request that US airlines label Taiwan as part of China. “The one-China principle represents the consensus shared by the international community and is the political foundation for the steady development of China-US relations, something not negotiable,” Geng said.
The reason for the foot-dragging was undoubtedly the US government’s behind-the-scenes efforts to prevent the carriers from “caving in” to the request. The White House in May described the request as “Orwellian nonsense,” and even tried to “negotiate” the one-China principle, using the global companies as political pawns. And on Tuesday, the US Embassy in Beijing expressed that the airlines should “stand their ground,” according to media reports.
But the US carriers saw things differently. “Like other carriers, American is implementing changes to address China’s request,” American Airlines spokeswoman Shannon Gilson said on Tuesday, according to a report by Reuters. “Air travel is global business, and we abide by the rules in countries where we operate.”
The carriers did the right thing by putting their business interests above the political interests of those who are determined to contain or split China. However, they are playing a little trick by not listing China as a country. Lufthansa and British Airways for instance both list "Taiwan, China" on their websites.
The action taken by American, Delta, and United airlines was a step in the right direction, but it was also a half-hearted attempt to correct their references to Taiwan.