As a “final” deadline approaches for U.S. airlines to respect Chinese wishes over the classification of Taiwan on their websites, the issue is escalating into a full-blown diplomatic battle.
Recall that China has insisted that all U.S. airlines identity Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, and Tibet as part of China. Currently, American, United, and Delta list these nations (or territories, depending upon your viewpoint) as separate countries.
The White House calls these Chinese demands “Orwellian nonsense”.
As tensions escalate, United and Delta have sought an extension. The original compliance deadline was May 25th. It is now July 25th. Other airlines, like Air Canada, Air France, British Airways, and Lufthansa, have fallen in line behind Chinese demands.
China currently considers the matter closed to further discussion. It will not talk to airlines nor will it even discuss it with the U.S. government. U.S. State Department officials, speaking anonymously, told Reuters that President Donald’s Trump’s aggressive and escalating trade dispute is to blame.
U.S. Airlines Look to U.S. Government
U.S. airlines have deferred to the U.S. government on this matter, urging them publicly and privately to resolve this issue on their behalf. Last month, the State Department reached out to China’s Foreign Ministry in an effort to discuss the issue. But China refused a meeting.
An unnamed State Department official told Reuters:
U.S. airlines should not be forced to comply with this order. We have called on China to stop threatening and coercing American companies and citizens.
With China refusing to meet, the White House will decide, perhaps as soon as Wednesday, what its next move will be.
The stakes are high: the wrong move could cost U.S. airlines millions of dollars. If Beijing reacts negatively and the Trump Administration reacts with punitive countermeasures, the trade war between the USA and China could become even more severe.
Meanwhile, Taiwan is urging carriers (and national governments) not to succumb to Chinese bullying. A spokesman for the Taiwan Foreign Ministry stated:
Taiwan is grateful to the efforts of like-minded countries that have chosen to take a stand against Chinese bullying of private enterprises.
Both Delta CEO Ed Bastian and United CEO Oscar Munoz have carefully marked their words, stating they will watch for signals from the Trump Administration. Bastian said, “We’re working with the U.S. authorities on the topic and we’ll stay close to our U.S. government.” Munoz called the issue a “government-to-government diplomatic issue and again we’ll see what comes out of that and we’ll react accordingly.” Treading carefully, Munoz added, “I fly to both places and I am deferential to our customers, and again this is not something I am going to solve.”
U.S. airlines find themselves in an uncomfortable position. Deferring to the U.S. government gives them cover, but also leaves them at the mercy of that same government to negotiate with their interests at heart. As we approach the deadline, pay close attention to a potential “face-saving” solution that will allow both sides to declare victory, just like the Open-Skies debate…
image: Wikimedia Commons