Taiwan’s China Airlines changes livery in move that could anger Beijing


A major airline has subtly changed its livery in a move that could lead to an angry reaction from Beijing.

Taiwan based China Airlines, that flies regular sorties to Australia, this week debuted the first of a new fleet of freighter aircraft.

At first glance, the livery on the Boeing 777 looks little different to the airline’s normal colours. The tailfin continues to show the plum blossom logo that it’s sported for decades and the China Airlines brand still appears; but look closer and there are a small changes that could have a very big impact diplomatically.

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The China Airlines brand has been hugely reduced in size so it’s barely visible. While a large image of the island of Taiwan has been added to the fuselage placed within the C of the word “cargo”.

“The new paint job is meant to dispel any misperceptions that (the airline) is linked to mainland China,” said an article in the pro-democracy Hong Kong based publications Apple Daily.

But it’s more than that – it’s also being seen as a sign of Taiwan asserting its own unique identity not connected to that of China which insists it has sovereignty over the island.

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BEIJING’S TAIWAN DEMANDS

China Airlines is one of four global airlines that include the word “China” in their names. The others are Air China, China Southern and China Eastern.

The latter three are all based in the People’s Republic of China. However, China Airlines is the flag carrier of the Republic of China, better known as Taiwan.

Taiwan was historically a province of China but has never been part of Communist China, which came into being in 1949. Since then Taiwan has been effectively an independent nation. But the authorities in Beijing have long said they intend to unite Taiwan with the mainland – through agreement or force.

Under its “One China” policy, Beijing demands that countries recognise it or Taiwan as nations – but not both. At the Olympic Games, Chinese pressure has ensured Taiwan doesn’t compete under its own name but that of “Chinese Taipei”.

In 2018, airline Qantas was forced to amend references on its website to Taiwan as a country after Beijing kicked up a fuss.

Democratic and capitalist Taiwan seems in no mood to agree to a takeover from Beijing, particularly after the way the rights of Hong Kongers have been eroded.

Nonetheless, the authorities in Taiwan have, to some extent, always attempted to not antagonise Beijing through overt symbols of independence.

The name China Airlines and the inoffensive plum blossom logo were ambiguous enough to not offend mainland China.

However, Taiwanese officials increasingly appear to be less perturbed by Beijing and more frustrated by the widespread confusion as to where the carrier comes from.

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CONFUSION AT AIRLINE’S NAME

During the pandemic the airline flew millions of face masks to the US and Europe. But it was reported that Taiwan’s Premier Su Tseng-chang was concerned the carrier’s name may have led people to believe the donations came from Beijing.

In May, a US ad attacking now President-Elect Joe Biden over his attitudes towards communist China featured a China Airlines plane from capitalist Taiwan.

Just this week, Taiwanese media reported that the BBC has used an image of a China Airlines aircraft in a story that was actually about aviation on mainland China.

Earlier this year, Taiwan’s transport Minister Lin Chia-ling said he had an “open mind” to a name change for the airline.

In July, the parliament in Taiwan’s capital Taipei passed a proposal for the transport ministry to come up with “both short-and long-term rebranding plans” for the government owned carrier.

The downplaying of the China Airlines name and the appearance of a symbol of Taiwan on the new planes appears to be a first step towards rebranding.

Local publicationTaiwan News said the China Airlines name was becoming “highly problematic”.

But any move to fully rename the carrier may run into problems from Beijing. If it adds the name “Taiwan” to the side of planes, China could see it as sign that Taiwanese authorities see their future as distinct from the mainland.

China Airlines flies many routes to China from Taiwan and there’s every possibility the Beijing government could axe these if they are displeased by a new livery or name.

Communist mouthpiece The Global Timesthis week said any moves by Taiwan to secede would be “smashed”. That’s despite the fact, for all intents and purposes, Taiwan is completely separate from China.

“We are ready to make every effort with the utmost sincerity to strive for the prospect of peaceful reunification. Whenever there is even the slightest possibility of a peaceful solution, we will make a hundredfold effort for it,” Zhu Fenglian, spokeswoman for the Beijing Government’s Taiwan Affairs Office said on Wednesday.

“If the Taiwan secessionists still stick to their own way or take desperate actions, we will take all necessary measures to resolutely crush their separatist attempt and resolutely safeguard China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” she added.

Military aircraft from the mainland have routinely entered airspace close to Taiwan leading to Taipei to dispatch fighter jets to escort the planes.



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