Japanese airlines have joined their US counterparts flying into the unfriendly skies of Beijing’s wrath, as Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways have resisted China’s recent edict that official references to Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau must adhere to Beijing’s view of their status in the Chinese sphere.
While JAL and ANA have partially bowed to Beijing’s wishes by changing their references to Taiwan on their Chinese-language websites, they have not done so on sites in other languages such as Japanese and English. An op-ed that appeared in the nationalist Chinese tabloid Global Times on Tuesday warned that the trick of using different terminologies to suit different viewers “won’t fly.”
Beijing’s decree mandating that international airlines rectify their categorizations of Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau had already drawn a hefty backlash from Washington, which decried the “Orwellian nonsense” and vowed to protect US companies from such censorship and political correctness.
Unfazed by Washington, Beijing has steadfastly maintained not only that Hong Kong and Macau are “inalienable Chinese territories,” but that the self-governing island of Taiwan is a Chinese “province,” which foreign airlines must unequivocally reflect in their websites, advertising, documents and call signs when operating flights to and from these three places.
The implication is that those willing to comply will be in Beijing’s good books and those that don’t will risk seeing their business grounded in one of the world’s largest aviation markets.
It must be heartening for the China Civil Aviation Administration to see that a host of overseas airlines including Qantas, Air France, Air Canada, British Airways, Singapore Airlines, Malaysia Airlines and many more have rushed to sign on to Beijing’s wishes, as carriers have to tread cautiously amid the turbulence in cross-Strait relations when Beijing is bent on browbeating Taiwan’s international presence.
Only a few carriers are yet to implement Beijing’s one-China edict. They include, unsurprisingly, airlines based in Taiwan such as China Airlines, which still lists its home market and Hong Kong separately from China. Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong’s flag carrier, and its subsidiary Cathay Dragon have adopted a workaround that automatically directs visitors to separate webpages based on their location, for example the mainland China page when they are in China, rather than letting them choose from a country list.
Major US carriers United, Delta and American Airlines have responded with a defiant rebuff, defying a midyear deadline from Beijing to make changes to Taiwan’s status on their websites.
However, they are facing friction amid the escalating tit-for-tat trade row between Beijing and Washington, while patriotic Chinese flyers are threatening a boycott now that they have more alternatives, as Chinese carriers also ply the lucrative Sino-US routes.
An official of the Chinese aviation watchdog warned this month that foreign airlines that continue to ignore the one-China policy, especially those in Japan and the US, could face market restrictions for their words and deeds.