Amid escalating tensions between the US and China on issues ranging from the South China Sea to trade, a seemingly small issue threatened to add another point of contention this week.
A handful of US airlines refused in May to comply with a demand from Beijing that they remove all references to Taiwan on their websites that suggest it is an independent nation. The airlines include United Airlines and Delta, two carriers that as of Tuesday afternoon still followed mention of Taiwanese cities in drop-down menus with the word “Taiwan.”
When Beijing first issued the request, around two dozen international airlines changed wording on websites to read “[Taiwanese city], China.”
There was some speculation on Tuesday that the holdouts were poised to comply with the demands, despite encouragement from the White House to disregard an order that it referred to as “Orwellian nonsense,” in apparent reference to George Orwell’s dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.
One industry group indicated the airlines were leaning toward smoothing things over with Beijing.
“As with other sectors of the economy, the US airline industry is a global business that must contend with a host of regulations and requirements,” Airlines for America said in a statement, as quoted by Reuters.
“A4A and the affected US airlines appreciate the engagement and counsel we have received from the administration as carriers begin to implement a solution,” it went on.
Meanwhile, the administration of US President Donald Trump maintained its objection to China’s request.
“We have told China that the United States strongly objects to China’s attempts to compel private firms to use specific language of a political nature in their publicly available content. We continue to seek to address this issue,” a US Embassy spokesman said.
When asked whether China will take measures in response to an airline that doesn’t comply, China’s Foreign Ministry declined to say either way.
“Indeed, the deadline for changing the websites is close. Let us wait and see,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said.