Yes, the two Japanese carriers have given in to Chinese pressure. But they may have found a formula that meets Beijing’s demands without imposing China’s ‘Orwellian nonsense’ on the rest of us.
Since April, dozens of airlines providing flights to China have been pressured by Chinese authorities to change how they refer to Taiwan on their web sites so as to avoid any reference that my suggest statehood for the island-nation. With very few exceptions, airlines have yielded to those demands and now refer to Taiwan as “Taiwan, China,” “Taipei, CN,” or other such designations.
In many cases, governments have been reluctant to involve themselves in the matter, arguing that it is not their place to interfere in the decisions of private entities. Some governments have even denied being approached by airlines that sought assistance and guidance as they struggled to deal with the matter. (I’ve argued elsewhere that governments must regard this issue as a matter of foreign interference in our countries.)
A deadline, extended by one month after a number of airlines requested more time to come up with a solution, will pass at the end of this month, with Beijing vowing to punish operators that fail to comply with China’s domestic regulations.
Most airlines have changed their sites to reflect Beijing’s expectations regardless of the language or region selected when accessing their web site, and no matter where a user is located physically when doing so. Thus, on the Air Canada site, someone selecting Taiwan will get “台灣桃園國際機場, 台北, 台灣, CN” in Chinese, and “Taiwan Taoyuan Intl., Taipei, Taiwan, CN,” in English. The same for the British Airways site, which gives us “台湾中国” and “Taipei, Taipei (TPE), Taiwan – China”; and Air France, which yields “Taipei, Taiwan Taoyuan International (TPE) – Taiwan, China” and “台北, 台湾桃园国际机场 (TPE) – 台湾 中国.”
If the Chinese want to live in their own little parallel universe, then let them have it. But we should not allow them to impose that Orwellian worldview on the rest of us.
Two Japanese airlines, however, appear to have arrived at a compromise. Japan Airlines (JAL), which made changes on June 12, only refers to Taiwan as “China Taiwan” and “中国台湾” if the site is accessed in China and/or the region is selected as “China.” In other words, simply selecting the region as “China” is enough for the change to occur, regardless of where a user is located physically.
Conversely, on the All Nippon Airways (ANA) web site, where changes were also effected on June 12, it seems a user needs to be physically in China for the changes to be reflected in the airport selection drop-down menu; in other words, selecting the region as “China” when one isn’t physically in China will still yield “台北(桃园)/Taipei(Taoyuan)[TPE]” (although selecting “China” as the region seems to work for the selection of points of departure/destination).
This might just be the kind of pragmatic compromise that is needed to appease Beijing while defending our own integrity. Maybe this, rather than all-out capitulation, is an example that ought to be emulated by other airlines and private companies subject to this type of pressure from Beijing. If the Chinese want to live in their own little parallel universe, then let them have it. But we should not allow them to impose that Orwellian worldview on the rest of us.