US-based United Airlines has found a creative solution to China’s demand that international airlines comply with its One China policy: using currencies instead of country names.

The website now allows visitors to select from Chinese Yuan, Hong Kong dollar, and New Taiwan dollar before browsing, “for currency/payment purposes.” In April, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) sent letters to 44 international airlines, including United Airlines, asking them to list Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan as regions of China. The new currency format complies with their demands, without explicitly referencing China.

United airlines currency map
Photo: United Airlines.

The spokesperson for Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) Andrew Lee told HKFP that the ministry has thanked the airline for the change: “China has long been using every tool and opportunity possible to suppress Taiwan’s international visibility,” he said. “Its behaviour has been antagonistic and manipulative.”

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs welcomes and appreciates United Airlines for formulating such a flexible approach that highlights Taiwan’s autonomy and keeps Taiwan and China separated denomination from each other.”

United Airlines is the third largest airline in the US, after American Airlines and Delta Air Lines.

‘Orwellian nonsense’

The CAAC warned that potential repercussions for failing to follow with their demands could include blocking airline websites in China and losing access to the Chinese aviation market. In May, the US government called the demands “Orwellian nonsense,” despite warnings from Chinese officials that their refusal to comply could damage Sino-American relations.

All commercial airlines in Hong Kong changed the destination name for Taiwan to “Taiwan, China” ahead of the deadline set by the CAAC in July; however, major US airlines opted to refer to the country’s capital – Taipei – instead.

United airlines
Photo: Wikicommons.

Beijing claims that Taiwan – officially known as the Republic of China – is a province of China. It does not recognise it as an independent country, though the island has been self-ruled since its split from the mainland after the 1949 civil war.

HKFP has contacted Taiwan’s MOFA for comment.

Jennifer Creery is a Hong Kong-born British journalist, interested in minority rights and urban planning. She holds a BA in English at King's College London and has studied Mandarin at National Taiwan University.