United States slams China over 'Orwellian' bid to police airline websites

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in Beijing

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in Beijing Credit AFP

Foreign airlines that refer to Taiwan, Hong Kong or Macau as being independent from China could face punishment under a new social credit regulation issued by Beijing late a year ago.

The carriers were told to remove references on their websites or in other material that suggests Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau are part of countries independent from China, US and airline officials said.

The apparent intensification of efforts to police how foreign businesses refer to Chinese-claimed territories - even if only in pull-down web menus - underscores just how sensitive the issue of sovereignty has become in a China that is increasingly emboldened on the global stage.

Unlike self-ruled Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau are Chinese territories operating with some degree of autonomy. "This respect is essential for a robust global marketplace", she said.

The White House on Saturday sharply criticized China's efforts to force foreign airlines to change how they refer to Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau, labeling China's latest effort to police language describing the politically sensitive territories as "Orwellian nonsense".

On April 25, China sent a letter to 36 foreign airlines, including a number of American, German, and Malaysian carriers to demand name changes for Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau on business websites, ordering them to avoid listing Taiwan as a country.

The White House called Beijing's demand to the airlines an attempt by the Chinese Communist Party to "export its censorship and political correctness to Americans".

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Giuliani stated he was undecided when Trump discovered, saying, "It might have been lately, it might have been some time again". Trump said Saturday that Giuliani needed to "get his facts straight" but insisted they weren't changing their story.

The spat comes shortly after a high-level US delegation returned from two days in Beijing with little to show for talks aimed at averting a trade war between the world's two biggest economies.

In their telephone conversation on Saturday, Pompeo and Politburo member Yang Jiechi "affirmed the importance of a constructive, results-oriented bilateral relationship", State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.

Australian carrier Qantas, which also received the letters, had been referring to Taipei as part of Taiwan and was still doing so Monday in the drop-down menu in its booking engine.

As China leverages the power of its massive domestic market to bend foreign companies to its political will, its retribution has sometimes targeted those firms' online presence.

The allegations, including a claim that two pilots suffered eye injuries in one attack over the east African base, triggered swift denials with China's defence ministry which said the States have been "in complete contradiction of the facts".

The White House's use of George Orwell, who wrote Animal Farm and 1984 in the 1940s, to attack China reflects the view of some in the USA who stubbornly equate China to the centralised regime of the Soviet Union, Chinese tabloid Global Times commented, adding that they have ignored the fact China has always been a much more diverse nation with a socialist market economy system.

"Trump ran against political correctness in the United States", it said.

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