China’s State-Run Media Targets Airlines for Recognizing Territories as Sovereign

A Chinese state-run newspaper published the names of a number of foreign airlines that consider Taiwan, Hong Kong, or Macau to be sovereign territories, including United Airlines, Qantas and Air Canada. This marks the latest development in China’s campaign against foreign companies and individuals that have refused to comply with China’s efforts to delegitimize sovereignty for these territories.

The South China Morning Post reported that Chinese nationalist tabloid Global Times spread the names of these airlines through the Chinese social media platform, WeChat. It was reported that over 50,000 users saw this post.

These media tactics are fueled by persistent Chinese nationalism. Liu Kang, a professor of Chinese cultural studies at Duke University stated, “The current Chinese communist government is more a product of nationalism than a product of ideology like Marxism and Communism.”

Aviation experts, as a result, are concerned that a Chinese consumer boycott of these airlines may follow. Reports show that both Emirates and Qantas have determined it is best to re-evaluate their recognition of Chinese territories as sovereign. Due to the potential economic repercussions of losing Chinese business, airlines are beginning to cooperate with a foreign government’s agenda.

While Washington dismissed these attacks on airlines as “Orwellian nonsense,” the airlines themselves have taken China’s media campaign seriously by publicly stating their intent to review these policies.

This is not the first time Chinese media outlets have been used to increase pressure on foreign corporations. Earlier this month, images of a Gap sweatshirt with a map of China that omitted Tibet and Taiwan circulated the social media site Weibo. Gap immediately apologized, fearing a marketing disaster in China if it did not include these territories in the Chinese map.

China’s strong grasp on the world economy has been strengthened through the media channels through which it spreads propaganda aimed at nationalists to the point where it threatens foreign businesses with organized boycotts. Its tactics have even affected individual employees that have no connections with China.

In March, Marriott fired an employee after he liked a tweet by a Tibetan separatist group praising the company. Marriott also issued an apology, and stated that it does not support the sovereignty of Tibet.

The airline call-out was another episode of China’s attempt to influence its own citizens, as well as the citizens of the world, through strategic media campaigns.

A State Department official stated, “Regarding websites, we object to Beijing dictating how U.S. firms, including airlines, organize their websites for ease of consumer use. Chinese companies’ websites operate freely and without political interference in the United States.”

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