China Airlines may not have the same name in the future because of China

Jul 23, 2020

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China Airlines (CAL) may not have the same name in the near future.

Taiwan’s parliament passed a proposal today to rename the “flag” carrier that its government partly owns. The reason? To avoid confusion with carriers from mainland China, specifically Air China – the mainland’s national carrier.

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The similarity in names has led some to mistakenly conclude that China Airlines is based in mainland China, when in fact its name stems from Taiwan’s official name – Republic of China. This confusion became even more prominent amidst the pandemic, when Taiwan’s aid and repatriation flights were viewed in connection with Beijing. Even in American politics, a China Airlines plane was incorrectly used to depict the China travel ban in an attack ad against former Vice President Joe Biden.

The move from the Taiwanese parliament is a significant development from April, when the local government’s Ministry of Transportation and Communications had indicated an “openness” to renaming the airline.

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At that time, Minister of Transportation and Communications Lin Chia-lung stated potential concerns about changing China Airlines’ name because of its status as a listed company and the complications “involving aviation rights and routes”. Fast forward to today, lawmakers are taking action to formalize this renaming process, despite the potential for blow-back from their counterparts in Beijing.

This is because Beijing views Taiwan as its territory, part of its longstanding “one China” policy. To Beijing, any suggestion that Taiwan is a separate country is seen as a threat to its “core interests.”

Taipei’s moves to rename China Airlines, which it has used for diplomatic purposes during this pandemic, can be seen as a method to distinguish itself from the mainland government. The airline’s name was a throwback to the immediate aftermath of the Chinese Civil War, when the then-Taiwanese government set itself up as a rival to the People’s Republic of China in Beijing.

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“The ministry should make CAL more identifiable internationally with Taiwanese images to protect Taiwan’s national interests as overseas it is mistaken for a Chinese airline”, parliament speaker Yu Shyi-kun said.

While the approved proposal did not indicate a clear timeline for when the airline should be renamed, it directs the transport ministry to develop short- and long-term rebranding plans for the carrier.

Earlier reports have indicated potential names that could serve as replacements, such as Yushan Airlines, Formosa Airlines and Taiwan Airlines. The government is expected to consider the choices once official plans are submitted.

Featured photo by Benét J. Wilson/The Points Guy

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