Remember last year when Emirates suddenly banned its Taiwanese cabin crew from wearing their Taiwan flag pins? Risking a major furore with both its Taiwanese staffers and customers, Emirates decided to comply with a Chinese government directive under the so-called ‘One China Policy’. Taiwanese cabin crew were to no longer be allowed to wear their flag pins – but even worse, they were to be swapped with Chinese flags.
“We have been instructed by the Chinese government that with immediate effect, Emirates airline cabin crew are to follow the One China Policy,” an internal memo sent to cabin crew read. It continued: “This means you must remove the Taiwanese flag from your service waistcoat and replace it with the Chinese flag.”
The memo made it clear that all Taiwanese crew would have to comply with the instruction and understandably a backlash quickly followed. Tapei is fiercely independent, although to avoid a possible military conflict it hasn’t ever formally declared independence from the Peoples Republic of China.
But Emirates had been put in a very difficult position. The mainland regards Taiwan as part of China and it has long threatened international governments with sanctions under its ‘One China Policy’. Taiwan has effectively been sidelined as international governments broke official diplomatic ties in order to meet China’s demands. Not even the United Nations considers Taiwan to be an independent country.
Last year, the One China Policy was extended to include international airlines – carriers, including Emirates, were to comply with the policy or face being barred from doing business in the mainland. For the Peoples Republic of China’s aviation authorities, the Taiwanese flag pins were akin to Emirates accepting that Taiwan was an independent State.
At risk of causing a major diplomatic incident, Emirates quickly adjusted its policy, banning all crew from wearing flag pins, irrespective of where they came from. Emirates claimed that had always been its intention as it tried to de-escalate the situation.
Airlines around the world were ordered to remove references to Taiwan from their websites in order to comply with the One China Policy. Most carriers, including Emirates, have found a compromise, listing Taiwan on its website as “Taiwan – China”. A number of other airlines, including British Airways, have sought refuge in the same solution.
According to Reuters, 40 out of 44 international airlines have now complied with the directive but a number of airlines initially stood up to the order. In May, the White House called the policy by China’s civil aviation regulator “Orwellian nonsense”.
American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines are still to fully comply with the Civil Aviation Administration of China although all four have “submitted rectification reports” and have asked for a two-week extension for their websites to be audited.
At the time of writing, Delta still listed Taiwan separately from China without any reference to the mainland. China had said any airlines which failed to update their websites by July 25th would face sanctions.