China Dictating US Airline Website Design and Award Charts

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 lists Taiwan separately from China.

China specifically called out American Airlines and United Airlines speech. Delta was called out three months ago and apologized to China.

China told American Airlines and United that they had to refer to Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau as part of China. They wouldn’t be allowed to treat or refer to these as separate countries. Here is China’s letter to United (in Chinese, .pdf).

They told United that Taiwan must be listed on its website as “‘Chinese Taiwan’ or ‘Taiwan: province/region of China’.” The Chinese government’s letter specified that “Taiwan must be included in any map of China on its website and United must use the same color on the website for mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau.” China is even involving itself in United’s graphic design.

But if goes a step further than that! The Chinese government wants to ensure that award travel to Taiwan doesn’t get more expensive, insisting that “Taiwan destinations must not be classified as being in Southeast Asia but must be put in the same category as China” — notably United lists Hong Kong as Southeast Asia, while American lists all destinations at issue including China itself as “Asia 2.”

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

And they’re using their new ‘social scoring’ system to rate US companies.

If United doesn’t comply by May 25, the Chinese government will invoke “Civil Aviation Industry Credit Management Trial Measures” and “make a record of your company’s serious dishonesty and take disciplinary actions against your company…

That reference to “Civil Industry Credit Management” is citing a trial regulation on credit scoring in the aviation industry, and the letter claims United’s labeling of Taiwan is equal to “serious dishonesty” under that regulation…

According to a letter being released by White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders,

This is Orwellian nonsense and part of a growing trend by the Chinese Communist Party to impose its political views on American citizens and private companies,” the statement reads. “China’s internal Internet repression is world-famous. China’s efforts to export its censorship and political correctness to Americans and the rest of the free world will be resisted.”

…“The United States strongly objects to China’s attempts to compel private firms to use specific language of a political nature in their publicly available content,” the White House statement says. “We call on China to stop threatening and coercing American carriers and citizens.”

From China’s perspective, they can regulate speech beyond their borders as a condition of allowing companies to do business. Where will this end? Could they tell airlines they’re only allowed to honor elite benefits for passengers whose speech about Taiwan or Tibet conforms to their standards?

(HT: Bryan S.)

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, 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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  1. Well, before the merger with AA, US Airways included Taiwan and Hong Kong as part of “North Asia” along with mainland China. So I’m siding with China on this one. 🙂

  2. China represents the future of government surveillance. Initially this request seems reasonable. But, this would be similar to the US informing Chinese airlines how to list Alaska and Hawaii or our territories as part of the United States. A complete waste of time, unless you are an authoritarian government.

  3. Ok, you want one China? Sample wording:

    Award tier 2: Japan, Korea, Republic of China (including mainland, Hong Kong)

    Lufthansa maps in their in-flight magazine, the last I saw, doesn’t have any boundaries. No USA-Canada border. No different colors for the Republic of China on Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China.

    The United States should declare ONE United States (China, USA, etc.)

    Or airlines should stop using the word country. Use the word “region”. For example, Award tier 2 is the regions of Japan, Korea, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Tokyo. Add Tokyo using the excuse that it is added for clarity even though nobody thinks that Tokyo is a country.

  4. The US should require that all Chinese airlines must put on their website homepage that “The People’s Republic of China engages in human rights violations and unfair trade practices. It is not a democracy like the Republic of China” If there is no such boxed warning in large print, the airline cannot fly to the US.

  5. Just a thought exercise, but what if Hilary Clinton moved to California and they unilaterally declared that they had left the United States and would henceforth be their own country (similar to what Chiang Kai-shek did in Taiwan). Not only that, but the California government would go on to claim that they were the only legitimate government of the United States.
    How do you suppose the Trump administration would react?

  6. One added benefit for UA being forced to add HKG and MFM as part of China is that it becomes a domestic flight, and MFM-PVG is exactly at 800 miles apart which would qualify for the 8000 MileagePlus pricing for awards one-way. HKG-PVG is 779 miles.

  7. @Dan
    Taiwan is part of China. Period.
    Stop exporting your side of “political correctness” and think everyone should follow US ideology. Mind your own business folks.

  8. If you do not want to comply with Chinese law. Do not do business in china, get out. just like google. Everybody knows that there is no free speech in China.

  9. The style is familiar, and the Chinese government has this pattern of imposing its views by throwing tantrums.
    ALL foreign corporations are the object of this incessant pressure, and bean counters being the way they are, are not likely to buck, and constantly acquiesce, no matter how outrageous the demands are.
    They constantly “flex their muscle,” but their true military power is questionable, as, to this point, they have only had success with small militarily weak countries, or feeding weapons to surrogates.

  10. @farnorthtrader,

    With great jubilation and relief? In addition, many more jobs created for those who will be walling that dumpster fire off from the rest of the country…

  11. @Kevin, so you would be perfectly fine with the rest of the word no longer calling the United States, the United States, but instead calling the whole freaking thing California and recognizing the Clinton Administration as the government for all of the former United States? Quite surprising

  12. China and President Xi can go to hell. I will never bow to them, regardless of the cost.

  13. @farnorthtrader,

    Quite the opposite – While I could care less what the rest of the world thinks about or calls the United States, having kalifornia unilaterally decide to secede from the US and become their own third world shithole that we could wall off and finally be rid of? Yes, that would be absolutely fantastic – the fact that we could be rid of not just Hillary but the entire clinton clan too? Icing on the cake.

  14. Does China want our tourists and their$$$$$$ maybe not? why do we put up with this nonsense???

  15. @Not Dan

    Dan is correct. Taiwan is no more part of ‘mainland China’ than Hawaii is part of mainland Us.

  16. I guess the only person that is definitely wrong is the Press Secretary of the White House. The two governments signed numerous communiqué with regards to the US’ position on this “The Government of the United States of America acknowledges the Chinese position that there is but one China and Taiwan is part of China.”, regardless how companies draw up zones/countries, the government should honour what has been signed unless it has been revoked by law.

  17. @Not Dan

    One country, two systems. “China (including Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan) would be fine”. Your rhetoric is lost. And Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan with Mainland China were all Asia 1 in American Airlines before that was disintegrated during Bosh Jr. As you can see Obama just made it worse.

  18. @farnorthtrader Your ridiculous analogy betrays a disturbing ignorance of history. Korea is another country divided by the Communist/Capitalist struggle, but no one pretends that the DPRK or ROK legitimately govern anything more than their areas of control and there are no ridiculous games trying to force international organizations into calling the north “Hanguk Pyeongyang” or the south “Choson Seoul.”

  19. @Andy 11235, not sure why you need to be insulting, however, your analogy is not analogous. North and South Korea fought a proxy war for the US and China/Russia and fought to a draw, with neither side claiming to be the one true legitimate government for all of Korea.
    Chiang Kai-shek lost a civil war in China and retreated to Taiwan still claiming to be the only legitimate government of China. That is not the same thing as Korea.

  20. Isn’t Communism wonderful. My lasting memory of China….Walking down the street seeing people urinate in public…..and that wonderful aroma of urine….

  21. @LewPatrick, that’s weird, because that is my lasting memory of Paris! Except in the subways instead of the street.

  22. Given that China has absolutely zero ruling authority over Taiwan then no, it is certainly not part of China. Not sure why anyone would do anything but laugh at China’s charade regarding another country they do not rule.

  23. To quote: “The One-China policy of the United States is not
    the same thing as the One-China principle of the
    People’s Republic of China (PRC). The One-China
    policy contains more elements, such as the U.S.
    interest in a peaceful process of cross-Strait dispute
    resolution, and its differing interpretation of
    Taiwan’s legal status as compared to Beijing’s interpretation.”

  24. LEAVING ALL POLITICS ASIDE for the moment (this is, after all, a travel forum focused on miles and points), there is a significant difference in regulating speech — verbal or written — within one’s own country and without. Every US airline that flies into (and out of) the PRC has a Chinese language version of their website. Without knowing all the ins-and-outs of how/where various websites are based, I would *think* that a US airline’s Chinese language website could be considered China-based, and therefore subject to regulation by the Chinese authorities.

    However, on the airline’s “main” website (i.e.: the “American English” and “American Spanish” language websites, as opposed to the website based in the UK, or the websites based in Spain, Mexico, and other native Spanish-speaking countries), there is no reason that they should be subject to Chinese laws and/or restrictions…UNLESS, as a condition of having access to air routes into the PRC, the company signed some sort of agreement to abide by such restrictions (in which case they don’t have a leg to stand on).

    Again, just my 2¢ — feel free to keep the change. We now return to your political rants….

  25. Better award chart on Simplified Chinese version of UA website? Terrific!

    Leaving all politics aside, why didn’t the settlers in the New England Colonies obey the laws made by Britain? Who was George Washington, and did he break the law?

    Have no interest in figuring out what is going wrong in China, because Not-In-My-Back-Yard? For now.

  26. @M —> with regard to your comment, “Leaving all politics aside, why didn’t the settlers in the New England Colonies obey the laws made by Britain? Who was George Washington, and did he break the law?” The settlers in the New England colonies, as well as the rest of the 13 colonies located outside New England, chose not to obey laws made in the UK for one simple reason: they were subjects of the British crown, headed toward open rebellion and a war for their independence. Airlines are NOT citizens of China, so your analogy falls on its face.

    As for George Washington, as head of the Colonial Army, of course he broke the law and no doubt would have been hung for Treason had the British won — just as every signer of the Declaration of Independence and many others, to be sure. I hope you are not attempting to compare Doug Parker or Oscar Muñoz to George Washington.

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