Qantas says has been given more time to clarify description of Chinese territories

FILE PHOTO: A worker unloads a Qantas Airways Boeing 747 at Sydney's International airport in Australia, June 24, 2017. Picture taken June 24, 2017. REUTERS/David Gray

SHANGHAI/SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Australian airline Qantas Airways QAN.AX said on Thursday that it has been given more time to clarify how it refers to Chinese territories on its website, as a deadline set by Chinese authorities approaches.

China’s aviation regulator last month sent letters to 36 airlines asking them to remove references on their websites or in other material that suggests Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau are part of countries independent from China, in a move described by White House at the time as “Orwellian nonsense.”

One airline that received a letter and declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue told Reuters it was dated April 25 and gave carriers 30 days to comply, indicating a deadline of May 25.

“We made adjustments to our websites earlier this year and, along with various other airlines worldwide, have been given additional time to further clarify how we refer to Chinese territories,” a spokeswoman for Qantas said in an email.

She declined to comment on what the new deadline was. The Civil Aviation Administration of China declined to provide immediate comment when reached by phone.

Self-ruled Taiwan is claimed by Beijing as 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.

China has in recent months been upping its policing of how foreign firms describe these territories. Japanese retailer Muji was fined after being found to be using packaging that listed Taiwan as a country while U.S. retailer Gap Inc GPS.N issued an apology last week for selling a T-shirt which it said had an incorrect map of China.

Some airlines such as Air Canada AC.TO, Lufthansa LHAG.DE and British Airways ICAG.L have already made changes to their websites, according to Reuters' checks. The Taiwanese foreign ministry last week asked Air Canada for a "speedy correction" after the carrier made the changes.

Chinese state-backed tabloid the Global Times late on Wednesday published a post on social media platform Wechat naming U.S. carriers United Airlines UAL.N, American Airlines AAL.O and Hawaiian Airlines HA.O as being among those that had yet to alter their characterization of Taiwan.

Reporting by Brenda Goh in SHANGHAI and Jamie Freed in SINGAPORE; additional reporting by Alana Wise in NEW YORK; editing by Richard Pullin