The White House is urging US airlines to defy China on the issue of Taiwan

Joe Raedle/Getty ImagesPresident Donald Trump on Air Force One.
  • The White House is urging US airlines not to give in to pressure from Beijing over how they refer to Taiwan.
  • Beijing has demanded that airlines describe Taiwan as a province of China, and nearly two dozen carriers, including Australia’s Qantas this week, have made the shift.
  • The issue has become a global diplomatic issue, with Australia confirming it has discussed the issue with the US.
  • Despite not recognising Taiwan as a country, the US has been strengthening ties with the island in an attempt to push back on China.

The White House is urging US airlines not to give in to pressure from Beijing regarding how they refer to Taiwan, the Financial Times reported on Tuesday.

Citing five sources, the Financial Times said the Trump administration had asked United Airlines, American Airlines, and Delta Air Lines not to use the descriptor “Taiwan, China,” as China has demanded.

Taiwan has been self-ruled since 1949, but Beijing considers it to be a province of China and has been taking aggressive steps to enforce this stance on the global stage – particularly on foreign companies. In April, China’s Civil Aviation Administration sent a letter to 36 airlines requesting they stop describing Taiwan as a country and instead refer to it as a province of China.

In May, the White House strongly objected to China’s demands, describing them as an attempt to export censorship that “will be resisted.”

“This is Orwellian nonsense and part of a growing trend by the Chinese Communist Party to impose its political views on American citizens and private companies,” the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said in a statement.

At the time, American Airlines confirmed to Business Insider that it received the letter, and United Airlines later confirmed to Business Insider that it had received an extension from the CAA, thought to be until mid-2018, to resolve the matter. Both carriers refer to Taiwan as a country.

Earlier this year, Delta Air Lines was censured by the CAA for listing both Taiwan and Tibet as countries on its website. The carrier issued an apology, saying it made a “grave mistake,” and then changed its list of destinations from “Country” to “Country/Region.”

According to the Financial Times, this apology angered officials in the Trump administration.

China’s actions have caused a global diplomatic crisis

Qantas Boeing 747 400s nose to nose Copy 1200x719Qantas

On Monday, the Australian airline Qantas confirmed it would be following the likes of Air Canada, British Airways, and Lufthansa in changing its description of Taiwan to a province of China.

In response, Australia’s foreign minister, Julie Bishop, appeared to criticise the pressure Beijing put on the airline.

“Private companies should be free to conduct their usual business operations free from political pressure of governments,” Bishop said in a statement.

A representative for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade also told Business Insider that the matter had been raised at diplomatic levels.

“This matter has been discussed between Australian and US officials, as part of the regular and ongoing engagement between our two nations on a wide range of matters,” the representative said.

A State Department official told Business Insider last month that the US had urged partner governments to express their concerns to China over the matter, as the US did in April.

Doug Parker, the CEO of American Airlines, told the Financial Times that the issue was “between countries” and that the airline was “following the guidance of our government.” The Financial Times cited multiple sources as saying the National Security Council had been involved in discussions with airlines, but a White House representative denied the claim, the Financial Times reported.

A spokesman for International Air Transport Association recently told Business Insider that “where there are no global standards, or where there are gaps in how governments implement global standards, we ask that they sort out their differences so that airlines are not caught in the middle.”

The US has been strengthening ties with Taiwan

New Taipei City, Taiwanweniliou/Shutterstock

To prevent international recognition of Taiwan as a country – which could diminish China’s claim to it – Beijing demands that countries with which it has diplomatic ties cut relations with Taiwan.

The US ended diplomatic relations with Taiwan in 1979 but continues to have a “robust unofficial relationship.” And it has become even stronger of late.

Though most likely a misstep rather than subversion, then-President-elect Donald Trump accepted a phone call from Taiwan’s president in 2016, causing China to lodge a formal diplomatic complaint.

In December of last year, China complained that the US was interfering in its internal affairs when Trump signed a law allowing US Navy vessels to visit Taiwan. And earlier this year Trump signed the Taiwan Travel Act allowing high-level visits between the US and Taiwan, causing China’s state-run media to threaten “military pressure.”

Next week, the American Institute of Taiwan, the island’s unofficial US Embassy, will open its new $US250 million complex. Reportedly twice as large as its previous space, the building indicates strengthening of ties between the two countries.

China has ramped up its military exercises around Taiwan this year, and US officials told Reuters this week that US warships may soon be sent into the Taiwan Strait to challenge China. This would be seen as a further sign of support of Taiwan amid trade tensions with China.

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