China has asked US airlines to designate Taiwan as part of China on their websites and systems. Regardless of where you fall on the China/Taiwan debate, there are impracticalities that arise when treating the two places as one country and it has nothing to do with patriotism.
For the record, I want to be clear that I respect China’s sovereignty as well as that of Taiwan’s. If that seems like a paradox, it is. The Republic of China (Taiwan) was formed by a former Chinese leader on a Chinese island and from the view of China, has been allowed to function with some level of autonomy for more than 60 years. At the same time, as an American, I can appreciate that some territories no longer want to be a part of the old country. The US split from Britain in a violent way that Canada, Australia, India, South Africa and others have been able to avoid. However, from the Chinese perspective, calling Taiwan an independent country is no different than Puerto Rico, Texas or California being recognized as separate from the US by China. China has asked the carriers to comply with thier protocol of recognizing their territories as their own. Taiwan has naturally preferred to remain separate.
Taiwan has long tried to assert itself as independent from China as a stand-alone country, this is not a recent problem. They hold their own democratic elections, use their own currency, are a fully capitalist economy and advocate free speech. However, China is starting to make some moves to assert their authority over their territories. The airlines need to maintain good relations with the People’s Republic of China (China or PRC) but also with Taiwan as they have been left to do their own governing for so long. Recognition is important and China has a long way to go to re-assimilate Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau if they intend to return them to provincial status. While some have suggested it has something to do with Nationalistic political movements around the world, I personally think that it further coincides with the slow transition from Hong Kong’s agreed return to Chinese rule and the Basic Law. The road will be long and slow for Hong Kong but China seems to be making progress or at least Hong Kong doesn’t seem to be advancing their cause of independence, so I am more apt to believe that corporately it makes sense to get Taiwan on a similar path and timeline.
Why This Change Is Impractical for Airlines
There is a real problem in calling Taiwan part of China, aside from the diplomatic one, is key to travel sites. Hong Kong, Taiwan, Macau, and China all have different entry/exit requirements. While Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan are all very similar, they are categorically different than entering China. Any of the three territories could change their requirements and allowances at any time to be dissimilar as they like. To enter without an onward connection in China requires a 10-year visa, and in some cities, an extended connection does not permit entry into the country itself. Pricing also works differently as Yuan is the currency of China, while the Hong Kong Dollar is accepted in Hong Kong (and pegged to Macau who does not currently have long-haul service to the US); the Taiwanese Dollar carries still a third currency and exchange rate.
Looking around for other examples, Great Britain comes to mind. If one were to fly from New York to Edinburgh (Scotland, UK), London (England, UK) or Belfast (Northern Ireland, UK) the same entry and exit policies apply to each, the same currency is used. From China’s perspective, nations of the UK are akin to that of China but different for many reasons (“same same but different” to borrow from my Thai friends).
If a casual traveler decided to visit Taiwan and found it to be listed under China, maybe the website would stop visitors from applying for a 10-year Chinese visa. But perhaps those travelers would check into “Chinese tourist visa” requirements and apply for something that wasn’t required. Worse still, they may book into Taiwan and on to Beijing but don’t have the visa in advance.
China, itself, demonstrates in their own policies that the territories are in fact different countries. If China, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan are to be thought of as a single country, why do passport holders from China need a visa to enter the three listed territories and the other way around?
It seems the Middle Kingdom is looking at this impractically, though patriotically. I understand why China is adamant about the point (Taiwan too for that matter in their need to remain independent) but it is a wholly unique situation that requires a delicate approach. It seems more accurate to me that they are considered different countries, just as a French overseas territory might have different regulations to mainland France.
It’s not that China doesn’t have the right to demand such, especially in the case of Hong Kong and Macau which were leased territories from China to the UK and Portugal for almost a century. But until they align their immigration policies, currencies, and laws it seems impractical at a minimum to demand air carriers to reach a consensus that the territories are wholly part of China when they operate completely differently.
Hong Kong’s country designation had been listed as “SAR” (Special Administrative Region) on some websites, “China” on others. This indicates to travelers and companies that Hong Kong is different than other regions of China but not that it is separate from China. This seems to solve both problems, respecting China’s sovereignty as Americans would expect in regards to states, or the UK in regards to nations, while still indicating that it’s not mainland China and other policies and regulations apply.
What do you think? Have I over-simplified the issue? Is it, in fact, practical for the carriers and other travel providers to suggest all three territories are the same as mainland China?