China wants to dictate how foreign airlines refer to Taiwan – this is how every major airline is responding


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 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. Following is 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

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

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 a “public and immediate 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

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.


Last year when video of aviation officers dragging a passenger off a flight went viral, Chinese state-run media warned the incident could affect local sales.


  • British Airways: Taiwan is a province of China

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 “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

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

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

The United Arab Emirates’ national airline has a quite 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.”