U.S. airlines change Taiwan reference on websites ahead of Chinese deadline

A military honour guard holds a Taiwanese national flag as he attending flag-raising ceremony at Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in Taipei

A military honour guard holds a Taiwanese national flag as he attending flag-raising ceremony at Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in Taipei

The U.S. carrier previously referred to the Taiwan capital, Taipei, as "TPE, Taiwan" in its list of destinations, but now offers "TPE - Taoyuan International", a reference to Taipei's main airport, skirting the fraught issue of Taiwan's political status. In a tweet, Tsai said that Taiwan was now like "the canary in the coal mine of China's rise".

American and Delta Air Lines still mentioned "Taiwan" as an entity on parts of their websites Wednesday, but the name had been wiped from some of their searches.

"We can only continue to urge the worldwide society not to become an accomplice of China's bullying of Taiwan", said Taiwan cabinet spokeswoman Kolas Yotaka, adding that the government had made every effort to reverse the EAOC's decision.

The diplomatic relations between Taiwan and other nations has been an issue of contention for China for many years.

Robert Mann, an aviation consultant and former American Airlines executive, said the US carriers "lose face to some degree", but they preserve their ability to sell tickets in China and avoid other punishment that might have included extra customs delays for passengers.

But Taiwan condemned what it called China's "insolent actions" in wielding its political and economic clout in the matter. The change is expected to reach all of the airline's online content, though updates may have lagged in some markets, a spokeswoman said.

Taiwan split politically from mainland China during the 1949 civil war and is self-ruled.

But not all airlines have applied the change in the same way: Korean Air and Asiana Airlines, for example, have opted to list destinations by city and airport. The International Air Transport Association, a trade group of global airlines, predicts that China could overtake the United States and become the world's biggest air-travel market by 2022.

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China's foreign ministry applauded the US airlines, calling the changes on their websites "positive progress".

"China is willing to share China's development opportunities with foreign companies and welcomes them to invest in and operate in China", Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a regular news briefing in Beijing on Wednesday.

China's successful campaign to dictate the wording used on foreign airline websites follows a series of apologies this year from companies that "hurt the feelings" of the Chinese people.

While the punishment that China plans to impose on the carriers that fail to comply is unknown, Chinese regulators could change the airline's permit if it doesn't meet "the demand of the public interest".

The East Asian Olympic Committee (EAOC) on Tuesday revoked Taiwan's right to host a youth game in 2019, triggering a heated exchange between Taipei and Beijing.

American, Delta and United decided by Tuesday that they would acquiesce to China.

The U.S. State Department and White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment late on Tuesday. "I think what [the Taiwanese government] is doing is in line with what the U.S. government had already said", An said.

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