Three major US airlines – United, Delta and American Airlines – finally pulled Taiwan from their websites’ country lists before Beijing’s extended deadline this Wednesday to rectify overseas carriers’ reference to the self-ruling island.
Beijing demands that Taiwan be categorized as a province under its suzerainty, but the three US airlines until this week had steadfastly refused to cooperate. But now they are part of the last batch of major international carriers, apparently halfheartedly, to comply.
Still, these US companies have now deployed a workaround, by referring to Taiwan only by the names of cities on the island.
An unnamed US official was quoted by Reuters as saying that although the US government is opposed to such demands that could inconvenience travelers, the State Department had on Monday promised the Chinese Embassy in Washington that US airlines’ websites in English and Chinese would only display the names of Taiwanese cities and would remove references to Taiwan as a nation and any connotation in their documents and ads that could lead to the impression that Taiwan is a sovereign state independent from China.
American Airlines was the first of the three holdouts to back down and comply with the demand from the Chinese Civil Aviation Administration, first issued in late April, as it changed references from “Taipei, Taiwan,” to only “Taipei” on Tuesday morning.
American Airlines spokeswoman Shannon Gilson said on Tuesday that “air travel is global business, and we abide by the rules in countries where we operate.”
US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the department would oppose any foreign government’s demand that private corporations label something the way that government wants it to.
A statement from Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued late on Wednesday reiterated that Beijing had no jurisdiction over the island, prodding US airlines to reverse the changes.
Beijing has kept a close eye on major international airlines since April and hit back at Washington’s criticisms, saying the reason for the “foot-dragging” on the part of US carriers was undoubtedly Washington’s behind-the-scenes efforts to prevent the carriers from “caving in” to the request.
But the latest developments must be heartening: Air Canada, Lufthansa, British Airways, Air France, Qantas, KLM and Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific and its subsidiary Cathay Dragon, and many others, had already made changes one after another to their websites as per Beijing’s edict, and now all three major US carriers have also followed suit.
“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,” said a commentary that appeared in the People’s Daily on Wednesday.