Delta Air Lines Inc. is still facing heat from China for the way it classifies Taiwan on its website.
The airline is among four U.S. carriers China’s Civil Aviation Authority said Wednesday had not fully addressed the nation’s concerns about how they refer to the self-ruled island, which China considers a wayward province.
Amid a tense time in cross-strait relations, China has embarked on a monthslong campaign to pressure airlines and other American companies not to list Taiwan in a way that even implies its independence from mainland China. China has also set out to pressure Taiwan’s few remaining diplomatic allies to switch diplomatic allegiances.
In April, China sent letters to 44 global airlines giving them two months to address what China deemed as inappropriate references to Taiwan on their websites.
In May, the White House condemned China’s demands on private U.S. corporations as “Orwellian nonsense.”
In a statement on its website in Chinese after the deadline Thursday, the aviation authority said 40 airlines had fully complied but that the “rectification of the content still is incomplete” on the websites of Delta, United, American and Hawaiian Airlines. The statement didn’t specify what changes China’s government would like to see to their current policies, though some reports have indicated it has demanded they refer to “Taiwan, China.”
Delta was among the first airlines called out by China on the issue in January. Executives quickly issued an apology and made changes on Delta’s website, citing the importance of its business in China ahead of a July 20 launch of a new nonstop flight to Shanghai.
Delta officials, meanwhile, quietly visited with the the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Atlanta to offer assurances that the action wouldn’t change the way Taiwanese customers are treated.
Vincent Liu, the director-general of the office representing the Taiwanese foreign ministry, told Global Atlanta in a statement that the issue concerns him as both a diplomat and a private Delta flyer.
“All Delta passengers deserve professional and quality service, including the accurate and non-biased information provided by the airline,” he said.
Delta’s initial change — listing Taiwan under “Countries / Regions” tab of its destinations list — did not placate China’s authorities.
A look at Delta’s website Friday showed it had removed references to Taiwan after Taipei, its capital city, in its website’s booking engine. Other news outlets have reported that a few hours earlier, Taiwan was visible in the same context.
But neither did Delta list Taiwan as a part of China, as other carriers like Lufthansa have done. In fact, so far Delta seems to have aimed for a diplomatic middle ground: None of its Chinese cities have an accompanying country listing either. Shanghai and Beijing stand on their own without a reference to China, while places like Osaka and Seoul are followed by references to Japan and South Korea.
On the Asia/Pacific destinations tab, Taipei isn’t listed at all, though marketing copy at the top of the page says Delta allows travelers to “behold some of the world’s most famous temples in Taipei.”
The airline declined to comment directly on what changes it might make in response to the Chinese government’s determination that it hasn’t yet gone far enough, instead offering this statement:
“U.S. carriers including Delta are in the process of implementing website changes in response to the Civil Aviation Administration of China’s request, and we will remain in close consultation with the U.S. government throughout this process.”
A spokeswoman referred questions to Airlines for America, which she said is speaking for the sector as a whole on the topic. The industry group told the Associated Press that it doesn’t expect any interruptions to China flights as the dispute plays out.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Taiwan, known formally as the Republic of China, issued a strongly worded statement July 25 defending its position in the international community.
“Taiwan is Taiwan. It does not fall under the jurisdiction of China’s government. Taiwan is a democratic nation whose achievements in freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law have won international recognition and are the envy of the people of China, who have no political freedom. Taiwan’s existence as part of the international community is an objective fact; it will not disappear due to the suppression of the Chinese authorities.”