US airlines caved to China's 'Orwellian' demands on Taiwan — but now Beijing says it's not enough

Screenshot/ American Airlines
  • This week US airlines changed their descriptions of Taiwan to meet a July 25 deadline imposed by China.
  • The carriers dropped the word “Taiwan” from destinations on the self-ruled island.
  • But China has said the changes are “still incomplete” because they fail to list China as destination country.
  • The Civil Aviation Authority said it will consider beginning “civil aviation management procedures,” which could relate to airlines’ social credit record.
  • Despite the White House calling China’s demands “Orwellian,” dozens of airlines around the world have complied.

US airlines modified their description of Taiwan this weeek after Beijing demanded changes earlier this year, but Chinese authorities have said the changes are “still incomplete.”

American Airlines, United Airlines, and Delta Airlines describe destinations in their booking forms in the format of “Airport Name, City, Country” or “City, Country” but on Wednesday deleted the city and country name from airports in Taiwan.

But in failing to replace the country name with “China”, the Civil Aviation Administration (CAA) said the airlines had “started to rectify” the issue but “rectification is still incomplete.”

On April 25, China began demanding that airlines stop listing self-ruled Taiwan as a country, and instead describe it as a province of China, which frequently tries to assert its claim to the island on the global stage. The incident involved letters sent to at least 36 foreign airlines. Governments got involved, and the White House even released a statement slamming the demand as “Orwellian nonsense.”

Despite the political pushback, dozens of airlines have altered their websites. China threatened the airlines with marks against company social-credit scores if they did not comply, and this could have affected carriers’ access to what will soon be the largest air-travel market on the planet.

In the CAA’s statement released on Thursday it said it will “pay close attention” to the airlines and “decide whether to start the corresponding civil aviation management procedures.” It’s unclear what these procedures could be, but they could relate to the airlines’ social-credit scores.

US airlines were given until July 25 to make the change, but have since been granted another two weeks to complete changes on their website, meaning they could still be in the process of adding “China” to destinations in Taiwan.

A spokesperson from the US State Department told Business Insider that it has consistently conveyed to the Chinese government that it strongly objects to demands that private firms use specific political language and that US airlines shouldn’t be forced to comply. The spokesperson also said the State Department has raised the issue with other governments and has been in close contact with US airlines, but did not tell them how to respond.

Earlier this year, Delta was censured by China’s Civil Aviation Administration for listing both Taiwan and Tibet as countries on its website. The agency demanded an “immediate and public apology” and the airline responded by saying it had made a “grave mistake.”

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