Donald Trump’s battle against “political correctness” just ran into a new enemy: China.
Why Beijing is attacking US airlines with ‘Orwellian nonsense’
The White House accused the Chinese government of “Orwellian nonsense” on Saturday for ordering major airlines to follow Chinese protocol when they refer to Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau. The Beijing government wants airlines to explicitly identify all three territories as belonging to China (for example: Hong Kong, China).
This is likely to cause major headaches for the carriers. Until now, they have largely listed the three territories as just Hong Kong, Macau or Taiwan for a variety of political, practical and administrative reasons.
In the past, the Chinese government has tolerated the omission of the word “China” while referring to these territories. But since January, a number of foreign airlines and other brands have come under fire for failing to adhere to Beijing’s rules.
“Beijing has always been sensitive about how these territories are called, but in the past, it might not have had the economic power to influence others,” said Tao Yu, a political sociologist at the University of Western Australia.
“As its economic strength grows, Beijing now realizes it has the ability to project its views globally.”
Taiwan is a self-ruled island that has never pledged allegiance to the Chinese Communist Party, which runs the People’s Republic. The former European colonies of Hong Kong and Macau are under Chinese sovereignty, but have their own legal systems.
Last month, China’s Civil Aviation Administration sent a letter to 36 foreign airlines, including a number of American carriers, demanding that they change how the Beijing-claimed regions are identified on websites and promotional materials, according to a White House statement.
“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 statement said.
President Trump, said the statement, “will stand up for Americans resisting efforts by the Chinese Communist Party to impose Chinese political correctness on American companies and citizens.”
According to a April 25 letter addressed to the United Airlines, posted online by the Washington Post, the Chinese government made the following demands:
#1: Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan must not be listed in parallel with China in the “country” or “country/region” drop-down menus. Taiwan must be identified as “Taiwan, China.”
#2: On world maps, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan must bear the same color as mainland China.
#3: Destinations in Taiwan must be listed under “destinations in China” or “destinations in Taiwan, China.”
#4: Destinations in Taiwan should not be listed under geographical areas other than China (e.g. Southeast Asia).
Many international companies, for example hotels, list Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan separately from China because they each have their own passports, visas, currencies and immigration rules.
Even at airports in mainland China, passengers heading to those three places go through the same immigration checks as international passengers instead of domestic ones.
A matter of respect?
Beijing has for decades vowed to fight attempts to split China, and the recent calls for independence from groups in Taiwan and Hong Kong have become a growing concern.
In response to the criticism from the White House, China’s Foreign Ministry said foreign firms operating in should respect China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
While Washington has vowed to resisted the pressure, American companies, including Marriott and Delta Air Lines, have apologized to Beijing in the past over similar demands.
The letter issued by Beijing said if the airlines failed to make corrections in 30 days, they would be penalized according to Chinese rules.
It will be hard for the carriers to ignore the requests. China will overtake the US as the world's largest aviation market by 2022, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA).
But by toeing the Communist Party line, the companies will anger many people in Taiwan. The island’s own Ministry of Foreign Affairs has welcomed the White House statement.
In a March poll conducted by the Taiwanese Public Opinion Foundation on the island, 75% of the 1,072 respondents identified themselves as Taiwanese, while 10% self-identified as Chinese. About 38% supported Taiwan independence.