China has rejected U.S. requests for talks over how American airlines and their websites refer to Chinese-claimed Taiwan, according to sources, including a U.S. official, adding to tensions in a bilateral relationship already frayed by a major trade dispute.
China has demanded that foreign firms, and airlines in particular, begin referring to Taiwan as Chinese territory on their websites, along with Hong Kong and Macau, a move described by the White House in May as “Orwellian nonsense”.
Numerous non-U.S. carriers, such as Air Canada (AC.TO), Lufthansa (LHAG.DE) and British Airways (ICAG.L) have already made changes to their websites, according to Reuters checks.
But several U.S. companies, including Delta Air Lines (DAL.N) and United Airlines (UAL.N), were among carriers that sought extensions to a May 25 deadline to make the changes. The final deadline is July 25.
In late May, the U.S. State Department presented China’s Foreign Ministry with a diplomatic note requesting consultations on the matter, but the ministry has since refused it, two sources briefed on the situation told Reuters.
“This has definitely become a foreign policy issue,” one of the sources said on condition of anonymity, noting that the U.S. government did not view it as a technical matter for bilateral aviation cooperation.
The spat had become “another grain of sand in the wound” amid escalating trade tensions, a second source said, referring to U.S. President Donald Trump’s threat to impose tariffs on billions of dollars worth of Chinese imports to punish Beijing for intellectual property abuses.
An official with the State Department confirmed to Reuters that China had rejected its request for talks on June 25, adding that it was “disappointed” and had maintained close communication with the airlines but had not told them how to respond to Beijing’s demands.
“U.S. airlines should not be forced to comply with this order,” the State Department official said. “We have called on China to stop threatening and coercing American companies and citizens.”
Chinese companies are free to operate their websites without political interference in the United States, the official added.
China’s rebuff has left the U.S. government weighing its next move. The White House convened a staff-level meeting on the issue on Wednesday, but it is not clear what it plans to do.