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United takes back seat in dispute over Taiwan reference

United Airlines has distanced itself from a demand by the Chinese government for foreign airlines to change how Taiwan is listed on their websites, calling it a "diplomatic issue".

"It is a government to government diplomatic issue, we will see what comes out of that and we will react accordingly," United chief executive Oscar Munoz told reporters after a luncheon at the Economic Club of Washington DC.

"I fly to both places and I am deferential to our customers," he adds. "This is not something I'm going to solve."

United is the only US carrier that operates its own metal to Taiwan, offering nonstop service between San Francisco and Taipei. American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and Hawaiian Airlines sell flights to Taiwan that are operated by their codeshare partners. All of the US carriers list Taiwan on their websites.

In early May, the White House slammed a letter of demand from the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) to dozens of foreign airlines that called for them to list Taiwan as a part of China on their websites and in promotional material.

Several foreign carriers, including Air Canada, have made the change. The Canadian airline signed a long-anticipated joint venture earlier this week with partner Air China. Air Canada chief executive Calin Rovinescu was quoted in media reports as saying that the change had nothing to do with the joint venture.

The White House in May called the Chinese demand "Orwellian nonsense", saying: "We call on China to stop threatening and coercing American carriers and citizens."

The CAAC has since extended a deadline for foreign carriers to change how they refer to Taiwan to 25 July, or two months after the original deadline. As of 25 May, 18 of 44 foreign carriers have made the change, said the CAAC.

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