Three biggest US airlines bow to China Taiwan demand as deadline passes

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American Airlines aircraftImage source, Reuters
Image caption,
"Air travel is global business", an American Airlines spokeswoman told the BBC

The three biggest US airlines have complied with a Chinese demand to change how they refer to Taiwan, ahead of a 25 July deadline set by Beijing.

China earlier this year instructed 44 international airlines, plus other companies, not to refer to Taiwan as a non-Chinese territory.

Taiwan's status is sensitive. Beijing considers the island a province China.

American Airlines, United and Delta changed their websites so the capital Taipei is not listed as in Taiwan.

Chinese state newspaper The People's Daily reported on Wednesday that all 44 airlines had complied with the demand.

"China is willing to share China's development opportunities with foreign companies and welcomes them to invest in and operate in China," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said on Wednesday.

"Of course we hope that when they operate in China they respect China's laws and rules, China's sovereignty and territorial integrity and the feelings of the Chinese people."

American Airlines spokeswoman Shannon Gilson told the BBC in an email: "Like other carriers, American is implementing changes to address China's request. Air travel is global business, and we abide by the rules in countries where we operate."

Cathay Pacific told the BBC in a statement the carrier was a registered airline "of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) of the People's Republic of China. HKSAR is also where our operations are based. We must comply with the regulations and requirements of the relevant civil aviation authorities."

The issue has always been highly sensitive for Beijing, but in recent years it has become increasingly active in clamping down on perceived violations of its territorial claims.

Taiwan has been self-ruling since 1949 but China regards it as a breakaway province it will reunite with one day.

Beijing's demand was dismissed by the White House in May as "Orwellian nonsense", but many global carriers decided to comply rather than risk being shut out of one of the world's biggest aviation markets.

Image source, American Airlines
Image caption,
Taipei is listed without giving any country name on the American Airlines website

In its original demand, issued in April, Beijing said that neither Taiwan and Hong Kong nor Macau should be listed as separate places in, for instance, drop-down menus of company websites.

British Airways, Germany's Lufthansa, Air France and Singapore Airlines all list Taipei as in "Taiwan, China". Australia's Qantas in June also gave in to Chinese demands, leading to the government in Canberra criticising Chinese "pressure" over the situation.

"Private companies should be free to conduct their usual business operations free from political pressure of governments," Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said at the time.

Image source, United
Image caption,
Just before the deadline, United lists Taipei as being in 'TW'

China's vociferous defence of its territorial claims is not just directed at the airline industry. Earlier this year US clothing company GAP apologised for selling T-shirts with a map of China which did not show Taiwan and other disputed territories.

Japanese retail chain Muji recently has been fined in China for listing Taiwan as a country on some of its packaging.

Hotel chain Marriott also briefly had its Chinese website suspended for listing Tibet, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau as separate countries in a customer questionnaire.