Trump urges US airlines to blow off Beijing's bullying over Taiwan

Trump pushes American air carriers to snub Beijing's bullying over references to Taiwan on their websites

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(AP photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- The Trump administration is urging United Airlines and other air carriers from the U.S. to ignore directives from Beijing to change their references to Taiwan on their corporate websites, reported the Financial Times (FT).

Trump administration officials have requested that United, American Airlines and Delta not acquiesce to China's demand that they change listings of Taiwan as an independent country to being part of China, according to five sources who spoke to FT.

In late April, China sent a letter to commercial airlines demanding that Taiwan not be classified as a country and instead be listed as a province of China. Of the 44 airlines which received the letter, 18 have made modifications to their websites appease Beijing, while the remaining 26 have delayed making changes due to "technical reasons."

The Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) has given the remaining holdouts a "grace period" that lasts until July 25 to make the changes. To ensure that the world's airlines obediently follow the Chinese Communist Party's demands, Beijing in early May also sent a letter to the International Air Transport Association (IATA) pressuring it to change Taiwan's status to "Taiwan, China," according to Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA). Experts agree that if the IATA relents to Beijing's demands, its 280 member airlines from more than 100 countries would have no choice but to follow suit.

On May 6, White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders, said in a statement that "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," reported the Guardian.

The latest air carrier to cave in to Beijing's demands was Qantas Airlines, which announced on Monday (June 4) that it was in the process of making the requested changes to its website. Despite his own defense minister condemning China's bullying of Qantas over its website references to Taiwan, Australia's Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Tuesday announced his support for the airline's buckling to Beijing.

As for how U.S. air carriers are planning to handle the Taiwan naming issue, Doug Parker, chief executive of American Airlines said to FT that it is "between countries." Parker said that the U.S. government had given its reply to Beijing on the matter and "I'm not certain if we are obliged to [heed the US government guidance] but right now it is between our government and their government and we are following the guidance of our government."

United Airlines chief executive Oscar Munoz spoke with a top U.S. official over the matter, according to the report. Delta, meanwhile, said that it was examining Beijing's directive and would "remain in close consultation with the U.S. government."

U.S. airlines face a conundrum, although the White House has promised that it will support American air carriers, Beijing can deny the companies landing rights in China and the vast communist country has become a highly lucrative market for the major carriers, which they would be hard pressed to miss out on.

If the U.S. airlines ultimately relent to China as many have already, it is not certain that this would finally satiate Beijing or rather embolden the communist regime to make additional, more intrusive demands in the future.