Additional reporting: ZiQing Low
Illustration: Stellina Chen

Emirates, the Middle East's largest airline, is facing fierce criticism after it reportedly banned cabin crew from wearing the Taiwan flag on their uniforms due to pressure from China.

The cabin crew of Emirates traditionally wear pins of their national flag on their uniforms, but a leaked internal email, apparently from an Emirates manager, ordered Taiwanese airline staff to replace the island-nation’s flag pin with a Chinese one.

"We have been instructed by the Chinese Government that with immediate effect, Emirates airline cabin crew are to follow the One China policy," the email reads.





China still sees Taiwan as part of its territory to be reunified, and tensions between the two have worsened since Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) took office last year. Beijing has stopped all official communication with Taipei, upped military drills and sought to isolate the island internationally.

Taiwanese Emirates workers were outraged by the move.

Local media Apple Daily cited an unnamed staff member who believed the decision was made because Emirates was seeking to add more Asia routes, especially in China.

Angry social media users took to Emirates' Facebook page, flooding it with the Taiwanese flag in the comment section.

"Taiwan is Taiwan! How dare you force them to wear another (country's) flag. I along with many Taiwanese will never ride with this airline," one comment said.

The Taoyuan Flight Attendants Union said Wednesday it hoped Emirates would "respect the national identity of crew members from different countries and should not take a coercive or threatening approach".

According to Apple Daily, Taiwanese cabin crew on China flights were also requested to write "Chinese" as their nationality, rather than "Taiwanese."

Emirates later apologized in a follow-up internal message, asking Taiwanese crew to "refrain" from wearing their flag pins until further notice, the report said.

The airline made no immediate comment when contacted by AFP.

Emirates was also criticized last year when it asked Hong Kong cabin crew to wear the Chinese national flag as well as the semi-autonomous city's own emblem.

Not the first time

Taiwan has used a different flag and appears under the name of “Chinese Taipei” in international events since China replaced Taiwan in the United Nations in 1971.

As Taipei gears up to host the 2017 Summer Universiade in August, Taipei City mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) has been questioned by city councilors on whether the public would be allowed to bring the Taiwanese flag into venues to support the Taiwanese team. Ko said that as long as it does not affect the sporting events, audience members are allowed to hold either the “Chinese Taipei” flag or the R.O.C. flag.

In February, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said in a speech delivered to the Cambodian-Chinese Association that while he welcomed Taiwanese investment, the country had to respect Chinese sovereignty and that the Taiwanese flag should not be raised during Taiwan's national holidays.

Taiwanese celebrities abroad have also drawn a sharp response from China when they have used the national flag. In January 2016, Chou Tzu-yu (周子瑜), a member of K-pop group TWICE, had to issue an apology video and cancel tour events in China after she was filmed holding Taiwan’s national flag.

In September of 2016, the Chinese Embassy in Israel lodged a protest after the Ramat Gan City Council flew Taiwanese flags during a visit to the city by Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs Youth Ambassadors.

The Taiwan flag was removed from Regent Street in London during the 2012 London Olympics and was replaced with the Chinese Taipei flag.

U.S. singer Katy Perry wore the Taiwan flag with a sunflower dress at a concert in Taipei in 2015, and many in Taiwan were touched by the move. Though it was unclear whether she meant it as a political move, China quickly deleted references to her Taiwan performance from Chinese sites like Baidu.

Timeline of Chinese interference in Taiwan affairs in 2016 to 2017:

April 18-19, 2016: China asks the Belgian government to block Taiwanese representatives from a meeting during the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Steel Committee conference in Brussels.

May 2016: Taiwan receives a late invitation to attend the WHA, the invitation cites U.N. resolution 2758 and the "one China" principle.

June 2016: A Taiwanese study group is blocked from attending the International Labor Organization conference, despite having granted entry in previous years. The secretary general and a volunteer of the Yilan Migrant Fishermen Union were also denied entry to the conference.

June 20, 2016: Kyrgyzstan rejects the Taiwan Root Medical Peace Corps' application to provide medical services to communities in remote parts of the Central Asian country due to political interference by Beijing.

June 24, 2016 - Sept. 20, 2016: Cambodia deports Taiwanese nationals suspected of telecom fraud to China.

July 11-15, 2016: Taiwanese officials are denied entry to the Food and Agriculture Organizations Committee on Fisheries meeting in Rome, Italy.

Aug. 7, 2016: Kenya deports five Taiwanese nationals to China after acquitting them of telecommunications fraud.

Sept. 4, 2016: The Chinese Embassy in Israel lodges a protest after the Ramat Gan City Council hung Taiwanese flags during a Ministry of Foreign Affairs Youth Ambassadors visit to the city.

Sept. 7, 2016: Armenia deports 78 Taiwanese nationals suspected of fraud to China.

Sept. 23, 2016: The International Civil Aviation Organization refuses to invite Taiwan to its triennial assembly. A Paraguay official tells reporters that the ICAO would mute the microphone of anyone who mentions Taiwan; Taiwanese reporters are blocked from entering the assembly.

Sept. 28, 2016: The World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Competitiveness Report 2016 lists Taiwan as Chinese Taipei, but the WEF issues a statement the next day changing the entry back to Taiwan, China, as in previous reports. The change in nomenclature was said to be a “technical error.”

Sept. 29, 2016: The Irish Department of Foreign Affairs warns government officials against taking part in any of Taiwan’s National Day events, saying such action would “provoke China.”

Oct. 3, 2016: Taiwanese NGOs fail to apply to attend any of the UNFCCC COP22 meetings. However, Taiwan still sent a delegation of representatives from the government-funded Industrial Technology Research Institute.

Oct. 20, 2016: Taiwan’s Council of Indigenous Peoples (CIP) withdraws from the 2016 Hangzhou Cultural and Creative Industry Expo after the CIP’s full name was removed from their exhibit at the expo.

Oct. 27 - Nov. 29, 2016: Malaysia deports 21 Taiwanese nationals suspected of telecoms fraud to China.

Nov. 6, 2016: Taiwan’s first attempt in 32 years to attend the Interpol general assembly in Bali is rejected, Foreign Minister David Lee (李大維) says interference from Beijing was “a very obvious factor.”

Nov. 11, 2016: China protests Taiwan Foundation for Rare Disorders chairman Tseng Min-chieh’s (曾敏傑) attendance at the launch of the NGO Committee for Rare Diseases in New York.

Nov. 17, 2016: The World Chinese Economic Summit, held in Malaysia, designates former President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) as “former leader” instead of “former president.”

Dec. 21, 2016: Nurbek Alimbekov, Kyrgyzstan’s speaker of parliament, resigns after visiting Taiwan and meeting with Legislative Yuan, Taiwan's parliament, Chairman Su Chia-Chyuan (蘇嘉全).

Dec. 21-26, 2016: Sao Tome and Principe breaks off diplomatic ties with Taiwan and resumes ties with China.

May 1, 2017: Taiwanese delegates are forced to leave the Kimberley Process meeting in Perth, Australia, which seeks to end the trade in “blood” or conflict diamonds.

May 22-31, 2017: China blocks Taiwan’s attendance at the World Health Assembly in Geneva. Taiwan’s Ministry of Health and Welfare holds talks with 31 countries and 28 international organizations on the sidelines of the event.

Editor: Edward White