Just over a week ago, we reported on the pressure that a number of international airlines had received from Chinese authorities over the way they referred to Taiwan on their websites. China’s civil aviation authority wrote to around 30 airlines earlier this year demanding they stop referring to Taiwan as a separate country – a demand that several U.S. airlines had failed to fully act upon.
It’s all part of the so-called ‘One China Policy’ in which the mainland Chinese government views Taiwan as a breakaway province which will one day come back under China’s control. As a result, Taiwan has seen itself shunned by international governments in order to maintain a good relationship with China.
To put it into context, Taiwan isn’t even recognised as a country by the United Nations. At the Olympics, Taiwanese athletes have to compete under the flag of Chinese Tapei such is the sensitivity of the mainland Chinese government.
Earlier this year, the issue was taken to yet another level when China’s aviation authorities demanded that airlines which operate flights to the mainland stopped referring to Taiwan as a separate country. Most airlines quickly fell in line with the policy, afraid of the penalties they might be subjected to. Carriers such as British Airways, Emirates and Lufthansa referring to the island as ‘China – Taiwan’.
How have U.S. airlines reacted to the One China Policy?
Australia’s flag carrier, Qantas came in for criticism when it decided to “roll over” to China’s demands but the airline’s chief executive, Alan Joyce said the carrier was simply doing the same thing as the Australian government.
Airlines in the United States, however, were less willing to comply with the One China Policy and instead referred back to attempted talks between the State Department and Chinese authorities. Officials, however, said the Chinese had refused to meet their American counterparts over the issue.
A spokesperson for the State Department was quoted as saying that “U.S. airlines should not be forced to comply with this order. We have called on China to stop threatening and coercing American companies and citizens.”
Did a Taiwanese flight attendant discriminate a Mainland Chinese passenger?
With the deadline for compliance fast approaching, a number of U.S. carriers, including Delta Air Lines decided to make last minute changes which they hoped would placate the Chinese authorities. While it’s still unclear how Chinese authorities could punish airlines for noncompliance, it seems like it wasn’t a risk any airline was willing to take.
But it seems like tensions between the two sides could still be running very high – at least, that is, if allegations by YouTube user Steve Pan are to be believed. The Chinese national says he was on a recent Delta Air Lines flight from Shanghai to Atlanta when a flight attendant who he believes was of Taiwanese descent deliberately discriminated against him because of his nationality.
The passenger, who was on flight DL186 on 4th August says the dispute erupted over which passengers onboard the flight would be allowed to have one of the limited numbers of in-flight snacks. He claims the flight attendant refused to give him one of the snacks because of his nationality.
The video isn’t particularly clear but in comments accompanying it, the passenger says: “I strong(ly) believe while she treat people from Taiwan preferably, discriminate against passengers from mainland China (sic).”
“This creates humiliation, shame and unwelcomeness. I discussed the incident with several other attendants on the flight. I believe she is not fit serving on the flight from Shanghai to Atlanta while a lot of passengers from China,” the comment continued.
Clearly, this is only one side of the story and despite the man’s claims, there doesn’t appear to be any proof that he was actually discriminated against. Rather, this incident probably goes to prove the escalating tensions between China and the United States – what with a trade war ramping up as well.
In an emailed statement, a representative for Delta said: “We take all allegations of discrimination seriously and are looking into the customer’s concerns to better understand what happened.”
In reply to a question about Delta’s position on the naming of Taiwan, the airline explained: “U.S. carriers including Delta are in the process of implementing website changes in response to the Civil Aviation Administration of China’s request, and we will remain in close consultation with the U.S. Government throughout this process.“
Delta only started serving Shanghai from its Atlanta hub in July. The carrier also flies to the city from Detroit, Seattle and Los Angeles. Served daily by a Boeing 777-200, the airline recently announced that the route would benefit from Delta One Suite’s next year.