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China gives airlines reprieve on references to Taiwan

Beijing wants airlines to stop placing Taiwan on equal footing with mainland China and has given them more time to ensure compliance in their websites or operations

Beijing

MOST of the foreign airlines that agreed to tweak references to Taiwan to reflect the island's status as part of mainland China have been given more time to comply, with Beijing having extended a crackdown on companies over its stance on disputed territories.

Air France-KLM and Deutsche Lufthansa are among airlines that have made changes to their websites, while those that have received or applied for an extension include United Continental Holdings Inc and ANA Holdings Inc.

The Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) said late on Friday that all 44 carriers that were asked to modify their Taiwan references will do so; 18 made the required changes before a May 25 deadline, and the rest asked for extensions and were given until as late as July 25 to comply, the regulator said.

Taiwan has been a repeated flash-point as President Xi Jinping flexes China's economic clout on the global stage, forcing companies including Gap Inc and Daimler's Mercedes-Benz to apologise for offending the mainland's political sensibilities.

Air carriers from United to ANA received letters from the regulator calling for strict adherence to guidelines on references to Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau on websites and promotional materials, a move the White House called "Orwellian nonsense".

The Chinese government considers Taiwan a renegade island to be united with the mainland, while Hong Kong and Macau are special administrative regions that enjoy greater autonomy. Beijing objects to references indicating that they are independent.

An April 25 statement the CAAC sent to more than 40 foreign airlines said that carriers aren't allowed to place China, Hong Kong and Taiwan on an equal footing, and must refer to "China Taiwan" or the "China Taiwan region". Maps must display the territories in the same colour as mainland China and airlines can't place Taiwan in other categories such as South-east Asia, it said.

Failure to comply with the directives 30 days after the letter would merit punishment under Chinese regulations, said the statement.

United asked for and received a 30-day extension on the request, said an e-mail on Friday from the Chicago-based carrier; American Airlines Group Inc confirmed it got the Chinese request and declined further comment. Delta Air Lines Inc said it was studying the matter.

Delta said: "We are reviewing the Civil Aviation Administration of China's request and will remain in close consultation with the US government throughout this process."

The White House said in a May 5 statement that the directive by China is "part of a growing trend by the Chinese Communist Party to impose its political views on American citizens and private companies". "China's efforts to export its censorship and political correctness to Americans and the rest of the free world will be resisted," the White House said.

ANA confirmed its Beijing branch received a letter, dated April 25, from the CAAC. The carrier is in talks to extend the 30-day deadline, said its spokesman Yuko Yoshimura. She declined to specify whether ANA would comply with China's demands. Japan Airlines Co also applied for an extension, said its spokesman Masafumi Okuno.

IAG SA's British Airways said: "We always meet our obligations under international law and regularly make changes to our website, BA.com."

Following China's directive, Korean Air moved destinations in Taiwan to the North Asia grouping on its website, from South-east Asia previously, a spokesman said.

Asiana Airlines Inc, which also received the letter from the Chinese authorities, placed Taiwan under a section including China, Hong Kong and Macau, from the South-east Asia grouping previously.

Earlier this month, Gap apologised for and destroyed stocks of a T-shirt featuring a map of China that left out territories claimed by the country, including parts of southern Tibet, Taiwan and the South China Sea. The US retailer said on its Weibo account that it "respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China".

Malaysia Airlines, Air France and Lufthansa now refer to "Taipei, China" on their booking websites. Jin Air Co, a low-cost airline under Hanjin Group, said it will change the Taiwan reference on its website to comply with China's request by Friday or Saturday. BLOOMBERG

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