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Taiwan says it’s a democratic, self-ruled country in East Asia. China disagrees.
Under the “One China” policy, Beijing considers Taiwan to be a province of China, one that will eventually be fully reunified – by force, if necessary. China is adamant about this and frequently seeks to assert its claim to Taiwan on the global stage.
In order to prevent international recognition of Taiwan as a country – which could diminish China’s claim to it – the government even demands countries with which it has diplomatic ties to cut relations with Taiwan.
And now China has set its sights on a new target: foreign airlines.
On April 25, the Civil Aviation Administration (CAA) of China ordered a number of international airlines, including several from the US, to change how Taiwan is described on their websites and promotional material.
The US State Department confirmed to Business Insider airlines received the letter and said it had raised “strong concerns” with Chinese authorities in Beijing about the order.
“Regarding websites, we object to Beijing dictating how U.S. firms, including airlines, organize their websites for ease of consumer use. Chinese companies’ websites operate freely and without political interference in the United States,” a State Department official told Business Insider.
The agency also said it “will consider taking appropriate action if necessary in response to unfair Chinese actions.”
But this is not the first time China has tried to exert its influence over foreign companies. Earlier this year, the hotel chain Marriott was forced to shut down the Chinese version of its website for a week. The fast-fashion retailer, Zara, was ordered to complete a “self-inspection” and turn in a rectification report for listing certain areas as countries. China’s territorial claims to Taiwan have gradually become a confusing and diplomatically-fraught issue for foreign companies, and now air carriers. Keep scrolling to see how major airlines are dealing with China’s attempts to get foreign countries to comply with its view that Taiwan is part of China:
American Airlines: Taiwan is a sovereign country
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American Airlines confirmed to Business Insider it received the letter from China’s Civil Aviation Administration last month.
The airline, which lists Taiwan as a country on its booking drop-down lists, said it is “reviewing” the letter.
Last year American Airlines became a minority shareholder in China’s largest carrier, China Southern.
Delta Airlines: Taiwan is a region
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In January this year, Delta Air Lines was censured by China’s Civil Aviation Administration for listing both Taiwan and Tibet as countries on its website. The agency demanded an “immediate and public apology.”
The airline responded by saying it had made a “grave mistake”
“Delta recognizes the seriousness of this issue and we took immediate steps to resolve it,” the company said in a statement.
“It was an inadvertent error with no business or political intention, and we apologize deeply for the mistake. As one of our most important markets, we are fully committed to China and to our Chinese customers.”
Following the incident the company changed its destination list from being called “Country” to “Country/Region.”
United Airlines: Taiwan is a country
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When contacted by Business Insider, United Airlines referred questions to the US State Department.
But Foreign Policy reported the company did in fact receive a letter from China’s aviation agency.
United is a big player on the US-China route with the airline providing one in five of all flights.
British Airways: Taiwan is a province of China
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After the Delta Air Lines incident in January, the the Civil Aviation Agency reportedly summoned 25 foreign-airline representatives to demand each company remove any reference of Taiwan as a country from their websites and apps.
In February, British Airways, the UK’s flagship carrier, began listing the airport in Taipei as being in the country of “Taiwan (China),” with the word “China”placed in parentheses. But after it received a number of complaints in March, British Airways reportedly reversed its position and apologized to individuals who had contacted the airline.
Yet, on British Airways’ website this week the listing is “Taiwan – China,” with the two countries’ names separated by a dash.
For this to be the case, British Airways either did not reverse its position in March or did make the change but then swapped back to the name Beijing prefers.
When asked about the flip-flop, British Airways told Business Insider, “We always meet our obligations under international law.”
The company did not rule out further changes though, adding it “regularly make changes” to its website.
Qantas: Taiwan is a country
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Qantas confirmed to Business Insider it recently received a letter from China’s civil aviation agency for listing Taiwan as a country.
Around the same time that Delta Air Lines was reprimanded over its classification of Taiwan, Qantas found a similar “oversight” during a regular review of its own site that listed some Chinese territories, including Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau, as countries.
“We are correcting this error,” a Qantas spokesperson told Business Insider at the time.
It is currently unknown whether Qantas ever corrected this “error,” if it was only changed on some areas of its site, or if the regions were changed to territories of China and then back again.
Singapore Airlines: Taiwan is a country
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Singapore Airlines flies to Taipei, which it lists only as being in “Taiwan.”
When asked if it received a letter from the Civil Aviation Administration in China, Singapore Airlines confirmed it had received Business Insider’s questions and would respond “once we have something to share.”
Etihad Airways: Taiwan is China
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The United Arab Emirates’ national airline has an unusual arrangement for describing Taiwan.
When booking flights on the airlines’ homepage, Taiwan is not listed as a country nor province.
In the case of major Taiwanese cities Taichung and Kaohsiung, they are “Taichung, Taichung Airport, China” and “Kaohsiung, Kaohsiung Airport, China.”
The only time Taiwan is listed in the drop-down menu is when it is when the consumer manually types it in. In this event, the capital city of Taipei is effectively replaced by the island’s name, and is listed as, “Taiwan, Taipei Airport, China.”
Etihad did not respond to a request for comment.
AirAsia: There are no countries
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AirAsia’s booking form doesn’t list countries or regions aside from destination cities, which apparently keeps the airline out of tricky situations.
That happened in March this year when Taiwan’s aviation agency met with AirAsia to request an explanation and correction for recently adding “Taiwan, China” after the name of two Taiwanese airports.
The Kuala Lumpur-based airline said it would investigate the issue with its head office and comply with local regulations in Taiwan. The aviation agency in Taiwan also said it wanted the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to raise the issue with Malaysia’s government.
It appears AirAsia has resolved the issue by removing all country and region names from airport listings.
AirAsia did not respond to questions sent by Business Insider about this changing position.
Malaysia Airlines: Taiwan is a country called “Republic of China”
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Taiwan’s official name is the Republic of China; that’s the name Malaysia Airlines uses to promote the country as a holiday destination.
According to Taiwan, the Republic of China (ROC) was founded in mainland China in 1912. But in 1949, the ROC government relocated to the island of Taiwan during a civil war with the Chinese Communist Party, which now rules the mainland.
By using the term “Republic of China,” Malaysia Airlines acknowledges Taiwan as an individual country and also uses “Taiwan” as the country in its booking form.
Malaysia Airlines did not answer Business Insider’s questions about this position.
Lufthansa: Taiwan is a province of China
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Along with British Airways, Lufthansa first began referring to Taiwan as “Taiwan, China” earlier this year.
While it was reported that British Airways reversed its decision, Lufthansa did not.
As a result, Taiwan’s envoy to Germany wrote to Lufthansa and two other German companies, Mercedes-Benz and Bosch, asking them to stop calling Taiwan part of China.
“These companies have apparently come under heavy pressure from Beijing, as China has been flexing its muscle toward Taiwan around the globe,” Shieh Jhy-wey, Taiwan’s representative to Germany, said. “However, this is something that we cannot accept and we have demanded a correction from these companies.”
Lufthansa still uses “Taiwan, China.” Here’s how it explained its decision to Business Insider.
“As a company operating globally, Lufthansa considers general laws, regulations, local customs and practices in markets we serve when designing online interfaces to customers. This includes taking customs of the international clientele into consideration. In view of this, Lufthansa has decided to use the applied terms.”
Cathay Pacific: Taiwan is a country/region
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Intriguingly, Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific confirmed to Business Insider it only uses the term “Country/Region” across its websites.
Hong Kong’s relationship to China can be controversial at times.
It, along with Macau, is a Special Administrative Region of China. So Hong Kong is technically autonomous and has its own government.
But Beijing’s relationship with the three regions, as of March this year, is now run out of the same office – The Department of Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan Affairs.
Of all airlines, Cathay Pacific likely has the most experience in dealing with China’s sensitivities to territories it claims as its own.
Emirates: Taiwan is a country
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Emirates is a state-owned enterprise.
The airline’s global network flies to Taipei and the company lists the airport as being in “Taiwan.”
Air Canada: Taiwan is a country
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Air Canada lists Taipei’s airport as being in “TW,” the abbreviation for Taiwan.
The company has yet to respond to questions sent by Business Insider, but it wouldn’t be surprising if the Montreal-based airline had received a letter from China’s Civil Aviation Administration considering it was also sent to US and Australian carriers that used similar language.
The day after the CAA letter was sent, a spokesperson from the Chinese Embassy in Canada said a recent motion passed by the country’s senators condemning Beijing’s actions in the South China Sea will “stir up troubles.”
Air France: Taiwan is a country
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Air France flew its first code-share flight between Taipei and Paris with Taiwan’s China Airlines on April 16.
The French airline also lists Taiwan as a country on its site.
Earlier this week, French President Emmanuel Macron, speaking alongside Australia’s prime minister, said it was important for the Asia Pacific to “not have any hegemony in the region.”
Business Insider is waiting for responses to questions sent to the airline’s head office.
Garuda, Indonesia: Taiwan is China
Garuda follows a similar naming convention as Etihad, using China as the country without mentioning Taiwan.
The one Taiwanese destination on the Indonesian air carrier’s site – “Taipei, Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport, China” – only includes Taiwan because it is the official name of the capital city’s airport.
Garuda did not respond to questions sent by Business Insider.