A disagreement between US airlines and the Chinese government has now officially added one more point of contention to the increasingly antagonistic relationship between China and the US after Beijing rejected a request from the Trump administration to discuss the issue.
Following news reports of Beijing’s refusal to discuss the matter, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Lu Kang stressed Thursday that the international community agrees with the position that Taiwan is an inseparable part of China.
Last May, the Trump administration criticized a request from China that international carriers refer to Taiwan as a Chinese territory on their websites, after which US airlines made the decision to follow the White House’s lead on the issue. While other non-US carriers fell in line with Beijing’s order, American airlines, including Delta and United, declined to comply pending further discussions.
The strong rhetoric used by the Trump administration, which referred to China’s demand as “Orwellian nonsense” in an official press release, has raised the profile of the issue as a domestic political matter in the US, where lawmakers and pundits have frequently sought opportunities to accuse the Trump administration of “going soft” on China.
The final deadline for compliance with China’s order was set for July 25. An unnamed US State Department official was quoted as saying in a Reuters report on Thursday that “US airlines should not be forced to comply with this order … We have called on China to stop threatening and coercing American companies and citizens.”
China has not clarified what consequences companies that did not comply would face. Theoretically, any disruption in operations of American carriers in China could be reciprocated by US authorities, considering the scale of Chinese carriers’ operations in the United States.
The Trump administration has been decidedly more “pro-Taiwan” than previous administrations, both in staffing and policy. In a symbolic move last March, President Trump signed a bill that aimed to increase official ties with Taiwan’s government, despite that fact that his signature was unnecessary for the bill to go into effect.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security advisor John Bolton are seen as staunch supporters of Taiwan’s government. Randall Schriver, assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs has dedicated much of his career as president of a think tank which promotes greater official recognition of Taiwan’s international role as a nation.
Trump, himself, indicated a desire at the beginning of his term to use the issue of Taiwan as a card in negotiations with Beijing. He quickly relented under pressure from Chinese President Xi Jinping, who refused to speak with his US counterpart until he reaffirmed a commitment to the so-called “One China” policy.