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Politics

Taiwan mulls plan to penalize airlines now toeing China's line

Taipei faces dilemma in deploying political pressure as tactics resemble Beijing's

TAIPEI -- Authorities in Taiwan are considering countermeasures against foreign airlines that have bowed to Beijing and are now referring to the island as part of China on their websites.

The island's government is considering airport facility restrictions against airlines that have decided to appease Beijing, the United Daily News reported in its Monday morning edition.

However, many politicians appear reluctant to impose restrictions, arguing that applying political pressure on private companies is the same strategy Beijing used and has been maligned for.

It is unclear whether Taipei will go ahead with the threat.

The decision appears to be up to Taiwan's Ministry of Transportation and Communications. Carriers that now refer to "Taiwan" as "Taiwan, China" are in the cross hairs. They could have boarding bridge privileges and takeoff and landing slots taken away.

Airlines that have rejected the requests and continue to refer to the island as "Taiwan" could reap rewards, such as reduced takeoff and landing fees.

The problem broke out in April, when the Civil Aviation Administration of China issued a notice to 44 airlines, telling them that their companies' websites violate Chinese law.

One of the letters, which was received by a major U.S. airline, was published by The Washington Post.

The letter gave the airlines 30 days to change stop referring to Taiwan and said failure to comply would result in legally permissible punishments.

Beijing sees Taiwan as part of China. Taiwan disagrees. Many travel sites try to avoid getting in the middle of the fracas by using search headings like "country/region" and "city." Beijing has urged these companies to use "Taiwan, China," the "China Taiwan region" or other headings.

Fearing an adverse impact on their mainland business, international airlines have generally followed the request.

According to the CAAC, by the end of July, 40 of the 44 international carriers have modified how they refer to the self-governed island. These include Japan Airlines, All Nippon Airways, Korean Air Lines and other big carriers. Some of these airlines have gone halfway, stating only the name of Taiwanese cities, like "Taipei," without adding "Taiwan, China."

The Chinese authority has accepted these moves.

Four U.S.-based carries, including United Airlines, have not satisfied the CAAC.

For Taiwan, the absence of its name on signs and travel websites is a big setback.

On July 25, Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement, strongly condemning "China's crude attempts to coerce foreign airlines to downgrade Taiwan's status," calling it "political interference in private business practices."

Following media reports that Taiwan might be ready with retaliatory measures, the island's transport ministry on Monday said it is only examining the possibility of taking action. It explained that it will also take passenger interests into account and will not act in an irrational manner.

The reality is that any action Taiwan might take is unlikely to bring about positive change. Taiwan lacks the kind of influence that China so easily wields. Were Taiwan to pressure an industry that helps to connect it to the rest of the world, it could easily leave Taiwan isolated from the international community.

Taiwan's influence deficit could instead push President Tsai Ing-wen deeper into the U.S.'s corner.

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