The United States took to a popular Chinese social media platform Monday to ramp up its criticism of Beijing’s demand that airlines list Taiwan as part of China, but the message earned little sympathy on the tightly monitored website.
The US embassy posted on its official Weibo account the Mandarin translation of a White House statement that dismissed China’s request to foreign air carriers as “Orwellian nonsense”.
— 💯Fergus Ryan (@fryan) May 7, 2018
The post inspired tens of thousands of comments, but instead of supportive messages it triggered patriotic posts on a platform that is closely watched and censored by the authorities.
Several commentators called for “an independent Hawaii” and an “independent Alaska”.
One angry commenter said “(if you) don’t want to do business, get out of here. Follow our laws if you want stay!”
Another said: “This has nothing to do with freedom of speech. It’s Chinese law.”
While the post has not been taken down, users who try to share it on their own accounts receive a message saying: “Sorry, this content is temporarily unavailable.”
The White House statement came after Chinese Civil Aviation Administration sent a notice to 36 foreign airlines on April 25, asking them to comply with Beijing’s standards of referring to Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau as Chinese territories.
US embassy's statement is illegal on Weibo now. pic.twitter.com/RqtrK4welT
— Shawn Zhang 章闻韶 (@shawnwzhang) May 7, 2018
Hong Kong, a British colony until 1997, and Macau, a Portuguese colony until 1999, are now “special administrative regions” of China.
But Taiwan has been self-ruled since splitting from the mainland after a 1949 civil war.
China views the democratic island as a renegade part of its territory and has not ruled out the use of force to bring it back into the fold if necessary.
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.”
Seems US Embassy in China is very active today on Weibo, in this post claiming Uyghur reporters faced retribution for their coverage on Chinese crackdown on ethnic minorities. Makes one wonder how long it would take censors to respond. pic.twitter.com/VfY7OWTITH
— Pei Li 李沛 (@teamlipei) May 7, 2018
The Chinese government lashed out at the US statement, saying Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau “are all indivisible parts of China”.
“Regardless of what the US side may say or do, it will not change the fact that there is only one China in the world,” foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a regular briefing Monday.
He urged foreign companies to “respect China’s territorial integrity… Chinese laws and feelings of the Chinese people,” if they wished to do business in China.
The website of American Airlines changed its listing as of Monday to show Hong Kong and Macau as special administrative regions of China, and only classified Taiwan separately.
United Airlines and Delta have adopted a similar approach.
Washington has maintained a delicate diplomatic balance since 1979, recognising Beijing’s sovereignty as part of its “One China” policy, while remaining Taiwan’s most powerful unofficial ally and main weapons supplier.