White House slams China's 'Orwellian' demand that 36 foreign airlines change references to Taiwan

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  • The White House has denounced demands from China that 36 foreign airlines change references to Taiwan as “Orwellian nonsense.”
  • It was reported this week that China’s aviation authority sent a letter to US and international airlines, including American Airlines and Qantas, pressuring them to remove all descriptions of Taiwan as a country.
  • Taiwan is a democratic, self-ruled island that Beijing considers a province of China and goes to great lengths to assert its claim over on the global stage.
  • Earlier this year, China censured Delta Air Lines for a similar description of Taiwan and ordered all foreign airlines to review their sites leading to a number of changes and apologies from air carriers.

The White House on Saturday slammed China’s demand that 36 foreign airlines change how they reference Taiwan as “Orwellian nonsense.”

As first reported by Foreign Policy this week and confirmed by Business Insider, a number of airlines received a letter on April 25 from China’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) demanding changes to Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau as countries on their websites and marketing materials. American Airlines and Qantas both told Business Insider they had received the letter.

In a statement released on Saturday, the White House deemed this action “Chinese political correctness.”

“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,” Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in the statement.

“The United States strongly objects to China’s attempts to compel private firms to use specific language of a political nature in their publicly available content,” the statement read.

While Hong Kong and Macau are Special Administrative Regions of China, Taiwan is a democratic, self-ruled island. But it is one that China holds a claim to.

Under the “One China” policy, Beijing considers Taiwan to be a province of China, one that will eventually be fully reunified – by force, if necessary. China is adamant about this and frequently seeks to assert its claim to Taiwan on the global stage which the US appears to be pushing back on.

“We call on China to stop threatening and coercing American carriers and citizens,” the press secretary’s statement read. “China’s internal Internet repression is world-famous. China’s efforts to export its censorship and political correctness to Americans and the rest of the free world will be resisted.”

The US State Department previously told Business Insider this week it had raised “strong concerns” with Chinese authorities in Beijing and “will consider taking appropriate action if necessary in response to unfair Chinese actions.”

China successfully censured Delta Air Lines and other US companies months ago

Earlier this year, Delta Air Lines was censured by China’s CAA 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” and altered the title of its destination listings from “Country” to “Country/Region.”

After that incident, China ordered all foreign airlines to review their websites and reportedly called in representatives from 25 air carriers to demand they remove references to Taiwan as a country.

Lufthansa since changed its website to show Taiwan as a province of China while British Airways repeatedly changed its site back and forth.Qantas found an”oversight” that listed some Chinese territories as countries and told Business Insider at the time they were “correcting this error,” but the company did not respond to questions this week as to whether this correction was ever made or if the correction was reversed.

Dozens of airlines still list Taiwan as its own country but most recipients of the April letter remain unknown to the public, and a number of international airlines did not respond to questions sent by Business Insider this week.

But airlines aren’t the only foreign companies the Chinese government has tried to exert its influence over.

The hotel chain Marriott was forced to shut down the Chinese version of its website for a week and fast-fashion retailer Zara was ordered to complete a “self-inspection” and turn in a rectification report when the companies’ websites listed certain areas as countries earlier this year.

Here’s the White House’s statement in full:

President Donald J. Trump ran against political correctness in the United States. He will stand up for Americans resisting efforts by the Chinese Communist Party to impose Chinese political correctness on American companies and citizens.

On April 25, the Chinese Civil Aviation Administration sent a letter to 36 foreign air carriers, including a number of American carriers. This notice demanded that carriers change how “Taiwan,” “Hong Kong,” and “Macao” are identified on their websites and in their promotional material so that the references fall in line with the Communist Party’s standards.

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.

China’s internal Internet repression is world-famous. China’s efforts to export its censorship and political correctness to Americans and the rest of the free world will be resisted.

The United States respects the broad freedom private companies have in their interactions with their customers, both in the United States and abroad. This respect is essential for a robust global marketplace.

The United States strongly objects to China’s attempts to compel private firms to use specific language of a political nature in their publicly available content.

We call on China to stop threatening and coercing American carriers and citizens.

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