Taiwan asks U.S. airlines not to bow to China pressure on name change

Rain drops cover the window as a United Airlines plane sits parked at a gate at Newark Liberty International Airport Wednesday, April 25, 2018, in Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato)

Taipei, April 28 (CNA) The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Saturday it has urged two U.S. airlines not to give in to pressure from China to change the way Taiwan is listed on their websites.

MOFA spokesman Andrew Lee (李憲章) told members of the press that the ministry has contacted United Airlines and American Airlines and asked them to not belittle Taiwan by caving to China’s threats.

The move was made after American news publication Foreign Policy reported Friday that China’s Civil Aviation Administration had sent letters to the two airlines, asking them to follow “China’s restrictions against ‘separatism.'”

What Beijing meant was that the public content on the websites of the two American carriers must not refer to Taiwan, Hong Kong or Macao as countries separate from China, according to the report.

The airlines have been given a deadline to comply with China’s request or risk punishment by the “relevant cyber-security authorities,” Foreign Policy said, citing a source with access to the correspondence.

Lee said MOFA is paying close attention to the issue and has asked Taiwan’s representative office in the U.S. to confirm the report.

The representative office has also reiterated the Taiwan government’s stance on the matter, asking the airlines not to belittle Taiwan or damage its sovereignty and dignity by bowing to China’s pressure, Lee said.

United Airlines and American Airlines were the latest targets of China’s efforts to get companies to change their websites’ designation of Taiwan to reflect an association with China.

International companies such as Zara, Marriott, Qantas and Delta have issued apologies to China for listing Taiwan as a country on their websites and have added the word “China” after “Taiwan” on their websites.

Lee said, however, that no matter what China does, it cannot change the fact that Taiwan is a free sovereign country.

He urged international companies to be wise and brave, and not cave to China’s threats.

As many commentators have said, however, this may prove difficult, as the lucrative Chinese market provides Beijing with a bargaining chip that companies cannot ignore.

Companies that have ignored China’s threats in the past have been boycotted by Chinese consumers and have had their websites or apps blocked in China.

(By Ku Chuan and Kuan-lin Liu)