TAIPEI (Taiwan News) - Most people do not think twice when they go online to book a flight. They scroll down the menu until they find the name of the place where they live and then off they go.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) clearly has a lot more time on their hands than the rest of us. Because it appears that they have been studying these drop-down menus in some detail and as a result have been threatening no fewer than 44 different airlines over the names they have been using for different countries.
All too often in the past, the international community has rolled over and fallen in line with the Communist Party’s demands. But it seems on this issue, they have decided to make a stand. And the demands made by the Communist Party authorities that airlines stop using the names Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan have been condemned across the globe.
Australia’s Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, issued a strongly worded statement in response to their national carrier Qantas, receiving a demand. “The terms that private companies choose to list destinations are a matter for them," she said to the Sydney Morning Herald. "There should be no pressure from governments, whether ours or others, that threatens the ordinary operations of business."
She is of course absolutely right. But the Chinese regime is no ordinary government and the concept of businesses operating independently from state interference is an alien one to them.
Even more damning was the response of the U.S. Government. White House Spokesperson Sarah Sanders released another powerful statement over the weekend. She said, “this is Orwellian nonsense and part of a growing trend by the Chinese Communist Party to impose its political views on American citizens and private companies.”
She went on to say that the U.S. President will “stand up for Americans resisting efforts by the Chinese Communist Party to impose Chinese political correctness on American companies and citizens”.
And she ended with a request from the U.S. Government for the CCP to “stop threatening and coercing American carriers and citizens.”
The power of semantics
In diplomatic terms, these are both very powerful statements. The U.S. one especially contains a few things worth highlighting. Firstly, Sanders consistently referred to the regime in China as the Chinese Communist Party, not the Chinese Government.
This is an important distinction and much more than the mere semantics that some might try to brush it off as.
The Chinese Communist regime is not a normal government. It is an authoritarian, dictatorial, regime which seized power by force and has used that power to oppress, abuse and brainwash the Chinese people.
Referring to the CCP as the Chinese Government serves to legitimize this regime and all pro-democratic and independent media outlets should be encouraged to avoid doing this. It is also a point which Taiwan and other democratic nations should labor much more with global media outlets.
China’s global propaganda push
Sanders also calls out the Chinese regime for seeking to impose its own political agenda on people and businesses operating outside the CCPs sphere of influence. This practice has been apparent for some time, but it on this issue it is especially obvious.
The CCPs response to Sander’s comments is as good a place as any to find an example of it.
According to the New York Times, Geng Shuang, a spokesperson for the CCPs Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said, “No matter what the U.S. side says, nothing will alter the objective fact that there is only one China in the world, and that the Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan regions are inseparable parts of Chinese territory. It must be pointed out that foreign firms doing business in China should respect China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, abide by Chinese laws and respect the national feelings of the Chinese people.”
Let's overlook the factual and historical inaccuracies over his definitions of "One China" and the CCP’s flawed territorial claims to Taiwan for now. Instead, let's focus on the unveiled threat he is making to international companies that refuse to comply with the CCPs demands.
What Shuang is essentially saying is that if companies do not follow the orders of the CCP, they will be prevented from doing business in China. He even went on to state that they would be reported to Chinese internet regulators, which is basically threatening to censor their online content in China and so deny them access to its market.
The CCP frequently uses access to its large market as a tool of blackmail into force businesses into putting their principals to one side and adhere to their rules. The recent capitulation of the Marriott Hotel chain to demands to change how Taiwan is listed on their website is just one of many recent examples of this working.
This practice of economic bullying is one that the CCP has regularly used against Taiwan and other south-east Asian nations. But using it against international businesses and western nations is a more recent phenomenon.
Will the global push-back extend from words into actions?
The pushback from the Governments of both the USA and Australia is extremely welcome. It must now be hoped that their words will be followed up by actions.
It is important that international airlines, and other businesses, do not kowtow to the demands of the Communist regime in China. Several already have. The rest have seen the CCP extend the deadline to make their required changes. It remains to be seen which comply, and what happens to those that do not. China is also pressuring the International Air Transport Association on this matter too and if they cave, all airlines will swiftly follow.
If there are consequences emanating from this stance from China, then their home governments should be backing them up on this and raising the issue with both the CCP directly and the relevant international organizations.
Whether they are willing to take this stance remains to be seen. Perhaps the most likely outcome is a compromise along the lines of that taken by the Man Booker Prize, which backtracked on its decision to list Taiwanese writer Wu Ming-Yi (吳明益) as being of Chinese nationality and instead chose to change its whole long-list to show the country or territory they are from instead. While this is a bit of a cop-out, it is still better than falling in line with the demands of the CCP.
The long-term of implications of allowing the Chinese Communist regime to assert its own political agenda on the wider world could be profound. Not only does it risk entrenching Communism in China for many more generations, when global efforts should be focused on ridding the scourge of Communism from one of the world’s biggest countries. It also risks boosting other authoritarian regimes around the world, many of whom the CCP help to prop up.
If China is allowed to spread its message further afield, it will become an increasingly credible threat to democracy and freedom across the globe. And this is a threat which has implications for everyone.
The biggest threat is still probably reserved for Taiwan though. The CCPs continued claims to sovereignty over Taiwan, which fly in the face of all legal and historical evidence, persist and continue to be humored by the international community under the so-called "One China policy." The continued omission of Taiwan from the World Health Assembly at the behest of China is just one recent example of this.
This latest issue over airline drop-down menu’s might seem like a petty dispute and a storm in a teacup. But it is symbolic of a much broader issue, one which is of vital importance to Taiwan, and it is one that China cannot be allowed to win.