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Travelers’ propaganda

China pressures international airlines to toe the party line

Travelers’ propaganda

Chinese students wait outside the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. (Alexander F. Yuan/AP)

A letter sent by the Chinese Civil Aviation Administration to 36 foreign airline companies in April is yet another example of China extending its policies outside its own border. The letter ordered the airlines to change wording on their websites that presents Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macao as countries separate from China.

Sent to companies including American Airlines and United Airlines, the letter demanded that all website content follow “Chinese law.” Foreign Policy reported that, according to the letter, if the companies don’t get rid of “separatist” language, Chinese cyber-security authorities would punish them. Beijing could close down the websites in China or even ban certain flight routes.

“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,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee said in a statement. “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 U.S. Embassy in China posted the statement in Chinese on its Weibo account on Monday, prompting censors to quickly delete comments left by Chinese netizens supporting the statement. One early comment read, “Only folks with strong connections (like you) can avoid comments being scrubbed,” referring to the fact that censors wouldn’t dare take down a post by the U.S. Embassy. Weibo, a social media service similar to Twitter, disabled the sharing function on the post and left only pro-Chinese comments untouched.

Geng Shuang, a spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, doubled down on the claim that Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macao are part of Chinese territory. “Foreign firms doing business in China should respect China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, abide by Chinese laws, and respect the national feelings of the Chinese people,” he said.

While China considers Taiwan part of its territory, the self-governed island of 23 million has never been under the control of the People’s Republic of China, and has a completely separate government, legal system, currency, and passport. The status of Taiwan has been in dispute since the end of World War II, when the 1951 San Francisco Treaty renounced Japan’s claim over Taiwan without naming who would have sovereignty over it. An earlier Cairo Declaration stated it would go to the Republic of China, yet scholars claim the declaration isn’t legally binding.

Listing Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macao as parts of China would also lead to practical confusion for travelers.

Listing Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macao as parts of China would also lead to practical confusion for travelers: U.S. passport holders can visit Taiwan and Hong Kong without a visa for up to three months, and Macao for up to 30 days. On the other hand, Americans visiting mainland China need a $140 visa they can only apply for at the Chinese Embassy or one of the five Chinese consulates in the country. Flights from Chinese cities to Hong Kong or Taipei are never considered domestic flights, and calls from Beijing to Taipei are considered international.

Since the beginning of the year, China has become more outspoken about how foreign companies portray Taiwan: In January, Beijing shut down Marriott International’s website in China for a week after the hotel chain listed Tibet and Taiwan as separate countries in an online survey. Marriott apologized and fired an employee who had liked a tweet by a Tibetan group. Retailer Zara, medical device-maker Medtronic, and Delta Airlines also faced Beijing’s wrath for listing Taiwan as a country on their websites. Each company has apologized and conformed to Beijing’s wishes.

“Any nation that truly values democracy should side with Taiwan—which is touted as a success story in a region beset by authoritarian regimes and populist strongmen and strongwomen,” read a Taipei Times editorial. “The U.S.’s denunciation of China’s attempts to meddle in other nations’ and entities’ affairs should serve as a paragon for other nations on issues pertaining to the promotion—and protection—of democratic values.”

The tears of Liu Xia:

In a recording released last week, Liu Xia, wife of the late Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo, is heard crying as she describes her situation under house arrest. “Now, I’ve got nothing to be afraid of. If I can’t leave, I’ll die in my home. Xiaobo is gone, and there’s nothing in the world for me now. It’s easier to die than live. Using death to defy could not be any simpler for me.”