China Now Regulating US Airline Speech, Threatens United and American

In January China flexed its muscles against Marriott at a time that the US President began making rumblings of a trade war. They shut down Marriott’s booking engines in the country. Marriott Marriott fired an hourly worker who rather innocuously ‘liked’ a tweet about Tibet and even removed a banned book from one of their hotels.

At the time I wrote that China would be cracking down on airlines, too. American’s website for instance listed Taiwan separately from China.

As regulation is increasingly global, the most important markets set the rules. China is the next big thing. That was true 15 years ago, and it will be true 15 years from now. But for companies making a big bet in the country, Beijing is able to exercise global sway.

They’re now specifically calling out American Airlines and United Airlines speech. Delta was called out three months ago and already apologized.

The Civil Aviation Administration of China has sent a letter to United Airlines and American Airlines demanding that their global operations follow China’s restrictions against “separatism,” meaning that any references to Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau as countries independent from China must be removed.

The strongly worded letter demands that all public-facing content, across the world, must follow “Chinese law.” It gives the airlines a set timeline to comply with the demands, threatening that if not obeyed, the matter will be referred to “the relevant cyber-security authorities” for punishment, a source with access to the letter told Foreign Policy.

China is an important market for Delta (part-owner of China Eastern), American (part-owner of China Southern), and United (with service even into secondary cities). So China gets to regulate American speech.

China is insisting everyone copy IHG hotels and specifically define Macau, Hong Kong and Taiwan and part of China.

Soon they may force US airlines to deny you elite benefits if you refer to Macau, Hong Kong, or Taiwan as ‘separate’. Unless you believe in one greater China, no upgrades for you!

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. Thank you for an interesting and factual article. Until the last part, «Soon they may force US airlines to deny you elite benefits if you refer to Macau, Hong Kong, or Taiwan as ‘separate’. Unless you believe in one greater China, no upgrades for you!». I know it’s tongue in cheek, but it throws the article off for me.

    The uses of names can be a powerful one, for which nations put a lot of prestige into.

    Israeli officials use strong language and tactics against countries referring to Palestine as Palestine, not “Palestinian areas”, and I do believe there’s some similar notions regarding other contested naming areas like the use of Macedonia – with Greece using strong-arm tactics to keep UN and others referring to them as “Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”, since Macedonia also is the name of a region in Greece etc.

    Off the top of my head I can also think of Cyprus, Gibraltar, Ireland/Northern Ireland, Catalonia etc.

  2. But when arriving/departing China’s own airports, that government very clearly handles flights to Macau, Hong Kong and Taiwan differently than they do to “mainland” China airports, in terms of check-in, immigration, etc. Why should US carriers treat these destinations any differently than China’s own airports do?

  3. @Diego Dave,

    You should notice they call it international/HK/Macau, which means HK and Macau are not international flights as they are not a different country…..

  4. I think it’s kind of funny, in a sad way, that this offends China and Chinese People so much when you consider that if the average American were told a Chinese company called Puerto Rico a separate country the most likely response would be “you mean it’s not?”

  5. @bsp…

    But they obviously have different immigration procedures for Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau, which is why they’re not considered domestic flights.

    And if I use United miles to fly Air China to Shenzhen it’s 15,000 miles one-way for a coach ticket. But if I use my miles to fly to Hong Kong, 25 miles away and right across the border in “mainland” China, it’s 15,000 miles. Same goes for flights to Macau — the extra 5k is because you’re leaving mainland China, right?

    China is picking and choosing who has to follow what rules, depending on when it works for their messaging.

  6. So, there’s a typo above. It should read:

    And if I use United miles to fly Air China from Beijing to Shenzhen it’s 15,000 miles one-way for a coach ticket. But if I use my miles to fly to Hong Kong, 25 miles away and right across the border from “mainland” China, it’s 20,000 miles. Same goes for flights to Macau — the extra 5k is because you’re leaving mainland China, right?

  7. I think if China truly considered flights to Macau, Hong Kong and Taiwan as domestic travel those flights would depart from the domestic gates and areas of Chinese airports rather than the international areas as is the case now.

    Next China will be demanding Nine Dash lines on all airline magazine maps of the South China Sea.

    Considering Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan as part of China opens some possibilities.
    Domestic first class is treated as business class when using Delta miles. I’ve used them to book a business class award ticket but sit in first class on China Southern A380s on the scheduled three hour flight between Guangzhou and Beijing. Delta miles could never be used to fly in first class on an international route. It is a short flight but China Southern has international first class food and beverages and of course the first-class seat is the same as on long-haul international routes. Now that US airlines must consider Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan as all part of one country, it would seem possible to score any first class seats on a 777 or A380 on partner airlines with direct flights between China and the two SARs or Taiwan.

  8. Most Chinese people couldn’t care less about the whole China Taiwan thing. Let Taiwan be Taiwan, Tibet be Tibet, etc. It’s only the power hungry leaders in the party like Xi that care.

  9. Taiwan IS part of China. It is part of the Republic of China whose government is working in Taipei. And the mainland are just an illegal bandit government. ha ha ha

    Trump tweets too much but this is a tweet he should make.

    PRC (China) should stop making threats to our companies or they will be met with reciprocity. One way would be deny any Chinese product exported to this country unless they recognize the Taipei government. Believe me.

    Ok, seriously, Trump should defend America by this kind of bullying.

  10. We did not stop China early on when they started building islands in the S China sea. I suggest we force China not to politicize international business else we can retaliate too.

  11. Yep. I agree with @Diego Dave. United should change its mileage award chart to include Hong Kong and Macau in North Asia, along with Taiwan and China, rather than its current category of South China.

  12. I will not travel, or promote spending money in any foriegn country which does not allow free speech, this includes New York and California.

  13. The Chinese learn from the best: the USA.

    The Americans didn’t like the domestic laws of Kuwait, specifically their sanctions (which are written the way Americans write their sanctions), and quite literally “started regulating” Kuwait Airlines, forcing them in a corner — so they had to stop all service to the US. So there should be no complaints from Americans like you.

    https://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/flights/todayinthesky/2015/12/15/kuwait-airways-drops-nyc-london-route/77370416/

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