The United States government has condemned a letter from the Chinese government. The letter was sent last week to 36 airlines around the world, including American carriers, such as American Airlines and United Airlines. The letter called for the airlines to stop referring Hong Kong, Macau, and most importantly Taiwan as separate countries from China. The airlines China sent the letter to refer to the countries as separate on their websites, route maps, and marketing material.
The United States government’s response has been defensive. The White House called the letter, “Orwellian nonsense.” The government has responded by calling on China to stop threatening and coercing American citizens and corporations. China responded on Sunday, calling for foreign companies operating in China to respect the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
The big issue at hand for China is with airlines listing Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau as their own independent countries. Taiwan and China have a long-standing dispute over the sovereignty of Taiwan. The island off the coast of China claims its independence from the mainland, while China sees the island as a province. Hong Kong and Macau were previously foreign controlled territories, but have recently come under Beijing’s rule.
American Airlines has confirmed that it has received the letter from the Chinese government. Earlier in the year, Delta Air Lines was publicly scolded by the Chinese government for referring to Tibet and Taiwan as separate countries. Delta apologized for the error and has since made corrections to their website. Airlines are not the only businesses affected, as Marriott has had their website shut down for a weeks in China for referencing Taiwan as a separate country.
The airlines have yet to respond to the call from China to make the changes. The choice places the airlines in a tough position. The market for flights to China is growing with the country developing both as a business market and a tourist market. However, the U.S. government’s position on the issue of Taiwan is one of neutrality where the U.S. neither recognize China’s claim to Taiwan nor do they recognize Taiwan’s’ sovereignty.
With the current administration’s stance on China the situation has become tense, with the airlines currently sitting in the middle. The airlines will have to proceed with caution to ensure they do not lose rights to fly to China. However, they don’t want to anger the residents of Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau. The situation is most strenuous for American Airlines, who is major partners with Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific, which operates a small focus city in Taipei.