China and Taiwan have had a troubled history since centuries.
After being a brief Dutch colony, Taiwan, an island off China, was administered by China’s Qing dynasty from 1683 to 1895. Starting at the beginning of the 17th Century, in an attempt to escape the hardships of mainland China, significant numbers of migrants from fled to Taiwan. The Qing government ceded Taiwan to Japan after China lost to Japan in the 1895 Sino-Japan war. However, after the second world war after Japan surrendered and relinquished control, the Republic of China, one of the victors, began ruling Taiwan with the consent of its allies, the US and the UK.
After years of hostile relations between China and Taiwan, in 1980s, China put forward a formula of ‘one country, two systems’ under which Taiwan would get significant autonomy if it accepted Chinese reunification. While the offer was rejected, Taiwan relaxed investments and visit rules. In 1991, Taiwan proclaimed its war with People’s Republic of China over. However, there are undercurrents in Taiwan which want complete independence.
China regards Taiwan as a breakaway province which it has vowed to retake, by force if necessary. But Taiwan’s leaders say it is much more than a province, arguing that it is a sovereign state which has its own constitution, democratically-elected leaders, and about 300,000 active troops in its armed forces.
In this backdrop, recently, Beijing issued orders to world’s major airlines that they must comply with the orders to recognise Taiwan as part of China. Recently, Civil Aviation Administration of China published a notice on its website saying that foreign airlines operating in China should avoid referring to Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau as countries. This made some carriers change the drop-down menu from ‘country’ to ‘country/region’.
But Beijing wasn’t satisfied. On 25th April, the Civil Aviation Administration of China sent a letter to 36 foreign airlines ordering them to explicitly refer to Taiwan as a part of China. While the White House called it an ‘Orwellian nonsense’, China’s foreign ministry said, ‘Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau are “inalienable” parts of China’s territory and foreign companies operating in China “should respect China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, abide by China’s laws and respect the national sentiment of the Chinese people.’
Japan Airlines Co., ANA Holdings Inc. and Australia’s Quantas Airways Limited had already changed how they describe Taiwan on their website even as the deadline looms over the head. The Associated Press found 20 carriers, including Air Canada, British Airways and Lufthansa, that now refer to Taiwan, the self-ruled island that Beijing considers Chinese territory, as a part of China on their global websites. Even Air India, India’s national carrier, was forced to change ‘Taiwan’ to ‘Chinese Taipei’.
While the Chinese authorities are seeing this step as a victory, Republic of China (Taiwan) isn’t quite happy with this ‘bullying’.
Shame @PDChina! Authoritarian #China bullies @airindiain into changing #Taiwan’s designation & you use Twitter to trumpet the “victory.” How ironic Twitter is behind the #GreatFirewall, but privilege allows you full access. Don’t fear freedom & democracy. TEAR DOWN THIS WALL! https://t.co/sP7scAA0Ni
— 外交部 Ministry of Foreign Affairs, ROC (Taiwan) ?? (@MOFA_Taiwan) July 5, 2018
Taiwan Ministry has strongly objected to China’s bullying to achieve its ‘political objectives’. They have also urged the private firms to reject China’s ‘unreasonable demands’ to change their designation of “Taiwan” to “Taiwan, China.
While major international airlines have given in to the demand, major US carriers have not yet caved in. Meanwhile, Indian foreign ministry has justified the name change to be consistent with international norms and Indian policy and India’s position on Taiwan since 1949. However, Taiwan’s Economic and Cultural Centre in India (TECC) asked Air India to stand up against the unreasonable demand and even protested to the Ministry of External Affairs against China’s ‘bullying’.