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United Airlines makes concession to recognize Taiwan, angers China



xi jinping united
composite photo showing a United Airlines plane and Chinese
president Xi Jinping.

shutterstock/Vytautas Kielaitis; Fred

  • China forced dozens of airlines to remove their
    references to Taiwan as an independent nation earlier this
  • United Airlines complied with the request, but recently
    made a small concession to recognize Taiwan.
  • The airlines allowed customers to list their location
    as one that uses the Taiwanese currency, instead of listing
    Taiwan outright.
  • Taiwan thanked United for the concession, but China is

United Airlines made a small concession to recognize Taiwan amid

China’s ongoing attempts to wipe it off the map
 — and
Beijing is furious.

The airline recently enabled a functionality that allowed
customers to list their location as one that uses the Taiwanese
currency, the New Taiwan Dollar.

While the tweak may seem insignificant, the gesture nods to
Taiwan’s claim to be an independent nation, which is fiercely
contested by mainland China, which says Taiwan belongs to it.

The change, spotted by
the South China Morning Post
, cuts against recent efforts by
the Chinese government to force airlines to remove all reference
to “Taiwan” from their list of destinations, or to list it as
part of China.

This screenshot below shows what changing the location on the
website looked like on Thursday when accessed from Taiwan. You
can see that other locations, such as Australia and Japan, are
not defined by their currencies.

united airlines taiwan language listing
Airlines ticket bookers in China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan are
allowed to pick their locations by stating the currencies they

United Airlines; Business

It’s not entirely clear when and why the new option came into
effect. Business Insider has contacted United for comment.

How the airline row started

Earlier this year United dropped all its references to Taiwan as
a country after China’s civil aviation authority demanded
36 foreign airlines
to remove references to Taiwan, Hong
Kong, and Macau as countries on their websites and marketing

(Macau and Hong Kong are special administrative regions of China,
which means they belong to China but operate under a different
government and legal system.)

United Airlines typically describes destinations in its booking
forms in the format of “Airport Name, City, Country,” or “City,
Country.” It now refers to all destinations in Taiwan, Hong Kong,
Macau, and China without amy country names.

In other words, ticket bookers on those sites would find
destinations in those regions marked as “Taipei (TPE),” “Hong
Kong (HKG),” “Macau (MFM)”, and “Beijing (PEK).”

Those going anywhere else in the world, however, would be booking
flights to and from “New York, NY, US,” “London, GB,” and “Tokyo,
JP,” for example.

Other airlines including American Airlines and Delta Airlines

listed Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau in the same way

China has remained dissatisfied by the modifications, however. In
July, the Civil Aviation Administration of China said that
the airlines had
“started to rectify” the issue
but “rectification is still
incomplete” because they still did not list Taiwan as a Chinese

Xi Jinping
President Xi Jinping.


Taiwan’s gratitude — and China’s rage

Taiwan on Wednesday thanked United for its “flexibility” in
side-stepping its promise to China.

Li Hsien-chang, a spokesman for the Taiwanese foreign ministry,
said according to the South China Morning Post: “We would be glad
to see any flexible workaround that differentiates Taiwan
subjectively from China, in any means at all.”

Li added that Beijing’s attempts to make airlines list Taiwanese
territories as part of China was “dwarfing China” and “absolutely
unacceptable,” the Post reported.

China, on the other hand, is furious.

Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for China’s foreign ministry,

told reporters on Thursday
: “I just want to emphasize that
there is only one China in the world, and Taiwan is a part of
China. This is an objective reality, common knowledge, and a
point internationally agreed upon. Any foreign company operating
in China should comply to this.

“No matter how ‘flexible’ some people might want to be,” she
added in a clear reference to Taiwan’s foreign ministry, “they
can’t escape the fundamental principles of the ‘one China’

tsai ing wen
President Tsai Ing-wen in Taipei in May 2016. She is staunchly


Taiwan’s dwindling partners

Beijing has ramped up its pressure on Taiwan since Tsai
Ing-wen, a pro-independence politician, became president in 2016.

Multiple countries have cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan over
recent months. The latest break came last week when
El Salvador broke diplomatic ties with Taiwan
, leaving the
island nation with just 17 allies left, all of which are
relatively impotent on the world stage.

Taipei has blamed
the trend on China’s “dollar diplomacy”
using foreign aid and investment to pressure economic allies to
cut ties.

Earlier this month
a bakery-and-coffee chain received a barrage of attacks
Chinese citizens and media after photos showed President Tsai
drinking coffee at one of its branches on a trip to Los Angeles.

Multiple food delivery companies in mainland China removed the
cafe’s products from their platforms and the share price of the
cafe’s parent company plummeted in the wake of the photos.

Both China and Taiwan have also been
building up
respective militaries
to brace themselves for a future fight.

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