An Air New Zealand plane forced to turn around en route to Shanghai did so for diplomatic reasons, but not because of recent unease with New Zealand’s relationship with China.
Multiple sources say paperwork for the Air NZ flight 289, which returned to Auckland after several hours in the air included reference to Taiwan which China took to be an acknowledgement that the island was independent.
Although they share language and culture, China and Taiwan have a highly unusual relationship, dating back to the Chinese revolution in 1949. Both countries claim sovereignty over the other.
Mainland China (the People’s Republic of China) refuses to have diplomatic relations with any country which recognises Taiwan (which calls itself the Republic of China) as an independent state.
Sources say that officials in Beijing warned Air New Zealand to remove reference to any paperwork which suggested Taiwan was a state back in 2018, but someone forgot to do so.
The problem related to documentation from New Zealand’s Civil Aviation Authority which was included as part of Air New Zealand’s application to allow the particular plane to land in China. According to sources “the Chinese were very explicit” about what the issue was, however the issue was not resolved.
The issue has created a headache for the New Zealand government, with increasing questions about the true state of relations between New Zealand and China, and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern unable to say when she will visit Beijing.
However the issue which caused the Air New Zealand flight to return to Auckland was likely to have happened irrespective of the current questions, due to China’s sensitivity.
Air New Zealand has not yet responded to a request for comment.
In mid-2018, Qantas bowed to pressure from China to refer to Taiwan as a “territory” rather than a country on its website, the ABC reported.
In April 2018 the Civil Aviation Administration (CAA) of China ordered a number of international airlines to change how Taiwan was described on their websites and promotional material.
A month later Stuff asked Air New Zealand whether it had received any order from the CAA of China in regards to how the airline referred to Taiwan.
“We’ve not received any communication of this nature,” an Air New Zealand spokeswoman said at the time. Air New Zealand announced in February last year it would begin flying between Auckland and Taiwan’s capital city Taipei from November 1.
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