Qantas plans to change Taiwan website reference, but says needs time

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia’s Qantas Airways Ltd said it plans to change its website to refer to Taiwan as a Chinese territory, not an independent nation, but that it needed extra time to comply with the request from Beijing.

FILE PHOTO: A passenger walks with their luggage as they approach a Qantas Airways check-in counter at Sydney International Airport in Australia, October 25, 2017. Picture taken October 25, 2017. REUTERS/Steven Saphore

China’s aviation regulator in April gave three dozen airlines a May 25 deadline to remove references on their websites or in other material that suggest Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau are part of countries independent from China, a move described by White House as “Orwellian nonsense”.

Self-ruled Taiwan is claimed by Beijing as a Chinese territory, and has become one of China’s most sensitive issues and a potential military flashpoint. Hong Kong and Macau are former European colonies that are now part of China but run largely autonomously.

Qantas and some other airlines had requested at the time for an extension to decide how they would respond to the request.

At the International Air Transport Association (IATA) annual meeting in Sydney on Monday, Qantas Chief Executive Officer Alan Joyce said his company planned to comply with the request, although the company needed extra time.

“Our intention is to meet the requirements. It is just taking time to get there,” Joyce told journalists on the sidelines of the meeting.

The CEO of Qantas’ international unit, Alison Webster, said the decision was not influenced by Qantas’ partnership with China Eastern Airlines Corp.

“I don’t think the relationship makes any difference to how we review our response,” Webster said.

She said Qantas only needed extra time to make the change because “we have some complexity to work through”.

“This is not just Qantas Airways, this is the Qantas group that has to be adjusted,” she said. Due to the technology behind Qantas’ websites, “it takes some time for us to get to grips with changes that need to be put into the program”, she added.

Air Canada, Lufthansa and British Airways are among the other carriers that have made changes on their websites after China’s request. China said on May 25 that 18 carriers had changed their websites.

“As difficult and sensitive a decision as this is, our view is that we will comply with the Chinese government requirement,” Air Canada CEO Calin Rovanescu said at the IATA meeting.

“We’re not making any political statement. Airlines have enough issues to deal with,” he added.

American Airlines has not made changes on its website, saying it was following the direction of the U.S. government.

“We received the notice but then the United States has replied and we’re following the direction of the U.S. government,” CEO Doug Parker said in Sydney. “Right now it’s between our government and their government.”

Reporting by Byron Kaye; Additional reporting by Victoria Bryan; Editing by Michael Perry and Himani Sarkar