UPDATE: US Airlines Shift Taiwan Designation as China Pressure Proves Too Much

UPDATE: US Airlines Shift Taiwan Designation as China Pressure Proves Too Much
Photo Credit: Reuters / TPG
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US airlines succumbed despite requests from the White House to resist Chinese pressure.

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Updating to show that all major American airlines requested to change their Taiwan designation by China have complied in both English and Chinese.

American Airlines Group led a cascade of dominoes as all three major U.S. airlines acquiesced to demands to change the way their websites refer to Taiwan late Tuesday, bowing to demands from Beijing.

The U.S. group had been the last of at least 36 foreign airlines to comply with demands to replace the designation of "Taiwan" with one that does not suggest that the country is independent from China.

American Airlines removed the country designation from Taiwan's Taoyuan International and Songshan International airports, while Delta Airlines and United Airlines airlines removed the country designation from city airports in both China and Taiwan.

In traditional Chinese, the websites of the U.S. airlines sidestepped the problem by removing the country designation for cities in both China and Taiwan.

Reuters reported that Beijing had welcomed the changes as "positive developments."

The U.S. holdouts refrained from making a change until the last minute, ahead of today's extended deadline set by China. The original deadline was May 25.

Reuters previously said that Hawaiian Airlines had already altered its website to refer to Taipei as "Taipei, Taipei", having kept a close eye on other international carriers including Air Canada, Lufthansa and British Airways as they led the way in succumbing to Chinese agitation.

The moves follow intense pressure from Beijing and the expectation that a failure to fall into line would result in punitive actions including a reduction in the number of flights allowed to enter China.

In 2017, the International Air Transport Association forecast that China will replace the U.S. as the world's largest airline market by 2022, indicating the size of the stick Beijing is able to wield in its efforts to influence foreign airlines.

The shift contravenes instructions from the White House to withstand the Chinese pressure, which it described as "Orwellian nonsense," and comes despite attempts by the U.S. side to engage in talks with the Civil Aviation Administration of China, which lodged the request to the airlines.

China had consistently maintained that there was no room for negotiation.

The attempts to influence overseas companies are part of an ongoing campaign on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to limit Taiwan's international visibility and ability to maneuver.

China's government sees Taiwan as an inalienable part of its territory, and has stepped up efforts to pressure the country since the inauguration of Democratic Progressive Party President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) in 2016.

Tsai has so far refused to refused to acknowledge the so-called "1992 Consensus", a position that the CCP is intent on portraying as advocating independence for Taiwan, which has been self-ruled since the 1940s and democratic since the lifting of martial law almost three decades ago.

For her part, President Tsai has repeatedly stated that her position on cross-Strait relations is to maintain the status quo, and has had numerous requests for dialogue with Beijing turned down.

China has not ruled out recapturing Taiwan by force, though President Xi Jinping recently reaffirmed his government's commitment to peaceful unification during talks held in Beijing with former Kuomintang party chairman Lien Chan (連戰).

The CCP has previously targeted other multinational companies with significant exposure to the China market for similar treatment. In January, it demanded that the Marriott hotel chain change the language with which it referred to Taiwan, and also made similar requests to U.S. medical equipment maker Medtronic and Spanish fashion company Zara, as well as Delta Airlines.

All companies complied with the requests, with Delta even stooping to issue an apology.

In a recent interview, Brian Su (蘇瑞仁), Deputy Director General of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) New York, told The News Lens that it was imperative that multinational boardrooms stand up to China. "All companies should stand together and not allow China to dictate their actions. Because China is not their CEO. Business in a democracy runs by its own will, not by China’s will," he said.

Read Next: Q&A: TECO New York's Brian Su on Fighting for Taiwan Against China

Editor: Nick Aspinwall