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US airlines bow to Chinese pressure on Taiwan

US airlines are bowing to Chinese pressure to remove references to Taiwan from their website, with all of the major carriers appearing to have removed the country from booking channels.

American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines confirm that they are in the process of removing references to "Taiwan" from their websites. Hawaiian Airlines appears to have removed all references to Taiwan from its site as well.

"American is implementing changes to address China’s request," the Oneworld Alliance carrier says. "Air travel is global business, and we abide by the rules in countries where we operate.”

The move is an example of China, one of the world's largest and fastest growing air travel markets, using its soft power in the decades-old dispute over Taiwan. China has claimed sovereignty over Taiwan since the Communist Party took power in Beijing in 1949, while the government in Taiwan claimed control over all of China for many years.

The Taiwanese government has lessened its claims in recent decades, now asserting just its independence from China.

China sent a letter to 36 airlines, including US carriers, in April requesting changes to how they reference Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan. The former two jurisdictions are special administrative regions of China.

"This is Orwellian nonsense and part of a growing trend by the Chinese Communist Party to impose its political views on American citizens and private companies," said the White House in a May statement on the issue. "The United States strongly objects to China’s attempts to compel private firms to use specific language of a political nature in their publicly available content."

Industry body Airlines for America (A4A) thanks the Trump administration for its "engagement and counsel" on the issue.

"The US airline industry is a global business that must contend with a host of regulations and requirements," A4A says.

United is the only US carrier serving Taiwan, with daily service to Taipei from its San Francisco hub on a Boeing 777-300ER, FlightGlobal schedules show.

"United abides by and respects local laws and regulations in all markets and jurisdictions where we operate and conduct business," the Star Alliance carrier says. "United flights to mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan will continue to operate normally."

Delta, which discontinued service to Taipei in May 2017, says it is implementing the changes but continues to communicate with US officials on the issue.

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