Reuters reported on Thursday that China has rejected a request from the U.S. State Department to discuss how American airline companies refer to Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau.
The Chinese government has demanded the companies present all of these destinations unambiguously as provinces of China on their websites and threatened harsh consequences if they fail to comply.
The State Department denounced these demands as “Orwellian nonsense and part of a growing trend by the Chinese Communist Party to impose its political views on American citizens and private companies” in May.
According to Reuters, several weeks after that denunciation was issued, the State Department sent a diplomatic note to the Chinese Foreign Ministry asking for “consultations” on the issue. A State Department official confirmed on Monday that China rejected the request, a development the official described as “disappointing.”
“U.S. airlines should not be forced to comply with this order. We have called on China to stop threatening and coercing American companies and citizens,” the unnamed official stated, pointing out that Chinese companies face no comparable political interference when operating websites in the United States.
Another source said the matter has been absorbed into the trade dispute between the Trump administration and the Chinese government. Reuters relates comments from Chinese and Taiwanese officials that suggest the issue is most strongly centered on Taiwan, which Beijing has been working very hard to isolate and intimidate:
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang, asked about the rejection of discussing the issue with the United States, reiterated that Taiwan was an inseparable part of China and that this was the consensus of the international community.
Foreign companies in China must respect China’s law and the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, he told a daily news briefing on Thursday.
Taiwan Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrew H.C. Lee, said China’s demands over the issue “have reached new levels of hysteria.”
“Taiwan is grateful to the efforts of like-minded countries that have chosen to take a stand against Chinese bullying of private enterprises,” he said.
Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry pushed back in May by lodging a formal protest with Air Canada after it changed its website to list Taiwan’s capital of Taipei as a “city of China,” as demanded by Beijing. The head of the Taiwan Chamber of Commerce in British Columbia suggested Taiwanese travelers might “choose other carriers instead of Air Canada” if the website listing was not changed.
The airlines are clearly in a tough spot, as Chinese regulators could impose significant penalties on them or even lock them out of the Chinese market, but they are nonetheless maintaining an impressive level of resistance against China’s pressure. Several executives quoted by Reuters indicated they are following the Trump administration’s lead and have no current plans to change their websites.
China originally set a deadline of May 25 for compliance but extended it to July 25 when less than half of the foreign airlines targeted by the order changed their websites. In late May, the Chinese civil aviation administration admitted that only 18 of the 44 targeted companies had complied, a lower number than Chinese media initially reported. Some of the companies involved have said they will comply, but need more time to work out technical issues.