Under pressure from the Chinese government, American Airlines has wiped Taiwan from its website - an edit the Trump administration has urged U.S. carriers to resist.
The move came about three months after Beijing ordered dozens of foreign airlines to refer to the island as a Chinese territory or face consequences in the world's second-largest aviation market.
By Wednesday morning, Chinese users could no longer see the name "Taiwan" on a map of Asia on the American Airlines website, while China, Japan and the Koreas remained. The change is expected to reach all of the airline's online content, though updates may have lagged in some markets, a spokeswoman said.
"Like other carriers, American is implementing changes to address China's request," American Airlines spokeswoman Shannon Gilson said in a statement. "Air travel is global business, and we abide by the rules in countries where we operate."
American Airlines tweaked its language just hours before Beijing's July 25 deadline. So far, United and Delta have not followed suit, listing the island online as its own country - not "China Taiwan" or a similar title, per the request of President Xi Jinping's government.
The wording on commercial websites bears no significance over the official status of Taiwan, which Beijing has claimed as part of its territory under its "one-China policy." But driving U.S. carriers to self-censorship is a symbolic victory for Chinese leaders and an example of the nation's business leverage.
Taiwan broke from China after Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist Party fled to the island in 1949 after losing a civil war to Mao Zedong's Communists. Taiwan and China's relationship remains fraught, despite a number of talks between the parties in recent years.
Chinese officials applauded the "positive developments" by foreign airlines Wednesday without mentioning any specific American brands.
"We certainly hope that when they operate in China, they must respect China's laws and regulations, respect China's sovereignty and territorial integrity, and respect the feelings of the Chinese people," Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang told reporters.
The State Department, however, expressed that airlines should stand their ground.
"We have told China that the United States strongly objects to China's attempts to compel private firms to use specific words of a political nature in their publicly available content," a spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy in Beijing said Tuesday. "We continue to seek to address this issue."
Disobeying China, however, carries a steep economic risk for airlines in the rapidly expanding market. Roughly 549 million passengers in China took flights last year, compared with 184 million in 2007.
Analysts say Beijing can cripple access to these fliers by ramping up regulations, crashing websites, ordering ticket brokers to shun American carriers and reducing the number of tourists who are allowed to travel to the United States.
The risk of noncompliance is a doozy, said Bob Mann, an airline industry in New York.
"They can't sell within China," Mann said.
The Trump administration has called Beijing's demand "Orwellian nonsense," but industry groups suggested Wednesday that more U.S. carriers may comply.
Chinese officials have called the matter nonnegotiable and have rejected at least one request from the White House to discuss the issue.
"As with other sectors of the economy, the U.S. airline industry is a global business that must contend with a host of regulations and requirements," Airlines for America, a lobbying group for the industry, said in a statement. "A4A and the affected U.S airlines appreciate the engagement and counsel we have received from the Administration as carriers begin to implement a solution."
The aviation deadline arrived less than three weeks after the United States kicked off a trade war with China, imposing tariffs on $34 billion in Chinese imports. Beijing retaliated with levies on an equal amount of American goods.
President Donald Trump has vowed to slap duties on an additional $200 billion in Chinese products as early as September.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)
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