The overwhelming significance of a China Airlines rename

On 11 April 2020, Taiwan's Minister of Transportation, Lin Chia-lung, indicated via social media that he would be open to renaming China Airlines (CAL) since having distributed medical supplies all over the world and gained considerable visibility in the international media, the airline's name has caused confusion. However, such a name change would be significant and could spark further political tensions as the ongoing conflict between Taiwan and mainland China continues.


Historical considerations

The Republic of China is a “de facto“ island state made up of the group of islands of Formosa, Penghu, Kinmen, and Matsu, but which in its constitution also claims sovereignty over mainland China and Outer Mongolia. It is also known as Taiwan from the name of the main island that constitutes the state entity. Nanjing is the capital “de jure“ of the Republic of China, which however, is located in mainland China meaning therefore that Taipei is the current provisional capital.


To clarify, “de jure“ describes practices that are legally recognized, regardless of whether the practice exists in reality. In contrast, “de facto“ ("in fact") describes situations that exist in reality, even if not legally recognized.


Taiwan is not recognized by the People's Republic of China ‐ PRC - or by the other four permanent members of the UN Security Council (United States, Russia, United Kingdom, and France), as well as by Canada and some of the other states of the European Union. However, Taiwan has cooperation and trade relations with them, usually with a representative office acting as an embassy, in the name of Taiwan or Taipei. As of September 2019, it is recognized by 15 sovereign states throughout the world, including the Holy See.

A China Airlines A350 at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport. Photo by Ernest Leung | AeroNewsX

The birth of the Taiwanese flag carrier

On 16 December 1959, a retired Republic of China Air Force officer founded China Airlines and initially focused on charter flights. The airline had its shares wholly owned by the Government of Taiwan. China Airlines therefore became the national carrier of the Republic of China (Taiwan). During the 1960s, China Airlines was able to establish its first scheduled routes. In October 1962, a flight from Taipei to Hualien became the company's first domestic service. Later, with the introduction of the Caravelle and the Boeing 727-100, the airline began its first international flights. The airline grew consistently over the years. In 2000, the company received ISO 9001 international quality certification and began issuing tickets via the Internet. The company also opened new branches in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Guam.

A China Airlines A350 landing at Melbourne Airport. Photo by Duy Khang Tran | AeroNewsX

China Airlines signed an agreement to begin the process of joining the SkyTeam airline alliance on September 14, 2010, and became a full member on September 28, 2011. In 2017, China Airlines carried 19 million passengers, with annual growth of 4.94%. Exactly last year, China Airlines, as of April 2019, it served 161 destinations in 29 countries: 17 in Europe, 91 in Asia, 47 in the Americas and 6 in Oceania.


The political environment

The political environment is complicated by the potential for military conflict should Taiwan declare de jure independence. It is the official PRC policy to force unification if peaceful unification is no longer possible, as stated in its anti-secession law, and for this reason, there is a substantial military presence on the Fujian coast. The President of the Republic of China, Tsai Ing-wen, pledging that as long as she is Taiwan's president, she will never accept "one country, two systems".


The possibility of a name change

On 11 April 2020, Taiwan's Minister of Transportation, Lin Chia-lung, indicated via social media that he would be open to renaming China Airlines (CAL) since having distributed medical supplies all over the world and gained considerable visibility in the international media, the airline's name has caused confusion. This is because the name includes "China" and therefore there has been confusion as to whether the recent donations have come from Taiwan (China Airlines) or the People's Republic of China (Air China).

An Air China Boeing 747 at John F. Kennedy International Airport. Andrew Pries | AeroNewsX

Minister Lin has asked CAL to place more Taiwanese images or elements on its fleet so that people "can get a better understanding of Taiwan and avoid confusion with China". According to the Taiwan Times, suggested new names include "Formosa Airlines," "Yushan Airlines," and "Taiwan Airlines". However, any name change would be a big deal, involving air rights and routes, and although the Taiwanese government holds shares in CAL, it is a publicly listed company.


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