BEIJING/WASHINGTON – Beijing has dismissed the White House’s criticism of China’s “Orwellian nonsense” — demands that foreign airlines not refer to self-ruled Taiwan as a country — saying foreign companies operating in China must respect the nation’s sovereignty.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry said “whatever the U.S. says will never change the objective fact that there is only one China in the world and the Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan regions are an inalienable part of China’s territory.”
“Foreign enterprises operating in China should respect China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, abide by China’s law and respect the national sentiment of the Chinese people,” Geng Shuang, a ministry spokesman, said in a statement Sunday on the ministry’s website.
The government of President Xi Jinping has been increasingly assertive about its claims to Taiwan. Delta Air Lines Inc., hotel operator Marriott International Inc., fashion brand Zara and other companies have apologized to China for referring to Taiwan, semi-autonomous Hong Kong, and Tibet as countries on websites or promotional material.
The White House on Saturday condemned China’s efforts to control how U.S. airlines refer to Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau, saying the push to make them comply with Chinese standards.
Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement that Trump would “stand up for Americans resisting efforts by the Chinese Communist Party to impose Chinese political correctness on American companies and citizens.”
China’s Civil Aviation Administration has demanded the change from 36 foreign carriers, including some American carriers, according to the White House.
“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,” Sanders said. She said the Trump administration is calling on China “to stop threatening and coercing American carriers and citizens.”
The harshly worded statement came as a high-level trade delegation led by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin returned from negotiations in China and as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke with a member of the Chinese Communist Party leadership.
In their telephone conversation on Saturday, Pompeo and Politburo member Yang Jiechi “affirmed the importance of a constructive, results-oriented bilateral relationship,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.
The dispute over how airlines refer to Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau is another area of tension in U.S.-China relations, with the two countries already experiencing frictions over trade issues.
A spokesman for Airlines for America, a trade group representing United Airlines, American Airlines and other major carriers, said on Saturday it was working with the U.S. government to determine “next steps” in the dispute.
In January, Delta, following a demand from China over listing Taiwan and Tibet as countries on its website, apologized for making “an inadvertent error with no business or political intention,” and said it had taken steps to resolve the issue.
Also in January, China suspended Marriott’s Chinese website for a week to punish the world’s biggest hotel chain for listing Tibet, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau as separate countries in a customer questionnaire.
The apparent intensification of efforts to police how foreign businesses refer to Chinese-claimed territories — even if only in pull-down web menus — underscores how sensitive the issue of sovereignty has become in China.
China’s aviation authority said in January it would require all foreign airlines operating routes to China to conduct comprehensive investigations of their websites, apps and customer-related information and “strictly comply with China’s laws and regulations to prevent a similar thing from happening.”
Australia’s Qantas Airways said in January it had amended its website to no longer refer to Taiwan and Hong Kong as countries rather than Chinese territories after China issued a similar warning.
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