China wins airport “separatism” battle


Chalk up another trade win for China over the United States. US airlines quietly updated their websites in the past 24 hours to strip the country code off of airports in China and Taiwan. The move complies with demands made by the Chinese government to remove “separatism” references on a global scale.

United Airlines removed the country code from its website for all airports in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Airports in other countries kept the codes.
United Airlines removed the country code from its website for all airports in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Airports in other countries kept the codes.

The initial demand, made nearly three months ago, was derided by the White House as “Orwellian nonsense.” But all the strong words proved to be wasted posturing as the government had no policy moves to back them up with. Similar to the issue with Marriott‘s website earlier this year, US companies have little choice but to comply with Chinese demands if they wish to continue doing business. In the Marriott case the hotelier eventually apologized for Tibet independence references, halted work with an outside contractor and fired a guy from its customer service team as a result. China eventually accepted the apology, restoring access to the Marriott site.



For the US airlines the potential impact was similarly significant. They risked their websites being taken offline within China and also potentially other commercial actions. Chinese authorities could block the sale of tickets for tour groups on US carriers, for example.

Read More: A strong White House retort, but does China really care??

Is this concessions a harbinger for future moves in the growing trade war between the two countries? Maybe, maybe not. But there is no indication yet that any US industry is poised to win these battles. At least this one didn’t come with a $12bn farming subsidy. So that’s a small win, I suppose.



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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.
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