TIGHTENING GRIP

There’s a major oversight in China’s “Orwellian” bullying over Taiwan

Location, location, location.
Location, location, location.
By
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Is Taiwan part of China? That’s a question China has been successfully forcing many major airlines around the world to say yes to over the past months. But some travel companies have escaped that pressure—for now.

American Airlines, Delta, and United were the major US airlines in the spotlight ahead of China’s July 25 deadline for foreign carriers to change references to cities in self-governed Taiwan that appeared to suggest the island was separate of  China. In many airline website drop down menus, Taiwan appears as its own option under “country/region” menus, like China (or Hong Kong), while Taiwanese cities are followed by “(TW),” with no reference to China. China’s Civil Aviation Authority in April this year sent a letter to 36 airlines that demanded the carriers stop listing Taiwan as its own option under country menus, or else indicate that it’s part of China. The aviation authority had initially given the airlines a deadline of 30 days, but later extended that.

The White House responded at the time by calling China’s demand “Orwellian nonsense” and “part of a growing trend by the Chinese Communist Party to impose its political views on American citizens and private companies.” Nevertheless, it worked.

Approaching the deadline, American Airlines revised how Taiwan appears on its website on the day of the deadline, as did Delta and United Airlines. Taiwanese cities now appear on all three airlines without “TW” after their names.

United Airlines’ website before the changes, left, and after the changes on Wednesday.
United Airlines’ website before the changes, left, and after the changes on Wednesday.
Image: Screengrabs/Quartz

However “Taiwan” still appears as an option under country/region dropdown menus on the websites of all three carriers.

Image for article titled There’s a major oversight in China’s “Orwellian” bullying over Taiwan

United Airlines said in a statement that is “has begun to roll out changes to its systems to address China’s requirements. United abides by and respects local laws and regulations in all markets and jurisdictions where we operate and conduct business.”

A spokeswoman for American Airlines told The Washington Post, “Air travel is global business, and we abide by the rules in countries where we operate.”

Delta didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment from Quartz.

Many other major airlines such as Air Canada and German’s Lufthansa began referring to Taiwan as part of China soon after the letter became public.

But there’s a major oversight in China’s bullying. Booking sites like Expedia (both for users in the US and China) and Priceline still list cities as located in Taiwan, with no mention of China, according to searches by Quartz. So do some credit card providers’ portals, like that of JPMorgan Chase Bank.

Major airlines around the world now identify Taiwan as part of China
Flight booking sites of JPMorgan Chase Bank’s credit card portal system, Expedia, and Priceline.
Image: Screengrabs/Quartz

It’s unclear whether these websites will also become subject to China’s pressure tactics—but the success of the airline campaign suggests there’s no reason for Beijing not to cast a wider net. International companies appear to be willing to accept that following Beijing’s playbook over politics is the way to continue to serve an increasingly lucrative market.