White House Wants U.S. Air Carriers to Resist Beijing’s Pressure Over Taiwan
China wants U.S. Carriers to add a suffix when they refer to Taiwan (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

China’s Civil Aviation Administration has sent a letter to airlines from the United States -- United Airlines and American Airlines demanding that their global operations follow China’s restrictions against “separatism,” meaning that any references to Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau as countries independent from China must be removed.

Foreign Policy reports that the strongly worded letter demands that all public-facing content, across the world, must follow “Chinese law.” It gives the airlines time until June to comply with the demands, threatening that if not obeyed, the matter will be referred to “the relevant cyber-security authorities” for punishment.

The websites of both United and American list airports in Taiwan only as “Taiwan,” without reference to China. Chinese officials have increasingly pressured foreign companies and international organizations to explicitly refer to Taiwan as part of mainland China. U.S. Carriers are resisting the demand as the United States recognizes Taiwan as an independent country with formal diplomatic, defence and trade relations.

But in a sign of mounting friction between the two countries, the Trump Administration has urged both the airlines to ignore China’s demands over how they refer Taiwan. U.S. officials have reportedly asked both United and American Airlines to not comply with China’s demand to write “Taiwan, China” instead of Taiwan. The U.S. government’s request to airlines comes after China ordered 36 international airlines to remove any phrase that implied Taiwan which is an independent island but is claimed by China is not part of the Chinese mainland.

The Financial Times has reported that the U.S. government has asked the airlines to convey to the Chinese government that the Taiwan issue should be handled between the U.S. and China governments. The White House has reportedly told the U.S. carriers that the government can help provide cover however, the U.S. government obviously can’t do much if the airlines lose their landing spots for lack of complying to the stated rules.

Qantas Airlines from Australia has become the latest international carrier to bow down to Beijing’s demands, despite Australia's foreign minister saying private firms must be able to conduct business "free from political pressure".

Qantas' decision comes amid souring Australia-China relations. Canberra has introduced a raft of reforms to espionage and foreign interference legislation, with Beijing singled out as a focus of concern.