Renaming a company is always going to be a complicated undertaking, but rarely does it hit the levels of controversy currently swirling around China Airlines, Taiwan’s largest air carrier.
On Wednesday, Taiwan’s parliament approved a proposal to rebrand the airline – name change included.
Echoing earlier discussions about the need to rebrand, it was pointed out during the parliament meeting that the name of the Taipei-based carrier is easily confused with Air China, a major airline headquartered in Beijing.
This now tasks the Transport Ministry with working out policies that will help strengthen China Airlines as a Taiwan brand internationally so that it won’t be mistaken for an airline from mainland China.
“The Ministry of Transportation and Communications shall study and propose a feasible plan for the renaming of China Airlines in phases,” the approved proposal says in Chinese.
The proposal emphasizes that the ministry should find ways to rebrand that do not involve re-negotiating or modifying the carrier’s international aviation freedoms – such as strengthening the image of Taiwan on the plane livery.
The carrier at the center of this debate, however, is remaining quiet for now.
“Please be advised that China Airlines has no comments on this topic at the moment,” Jason Liu, vice president of China Airlines’ corporate communications office, told CNN Travel in an email.
A debate lasting for over a decade
China Airlines was founded in Taiwan in 1959 and flies out of Taipei’s Taoyuan International Airport, servicing 160 destinations in 29 countries. The majority shareholder is the China Aviation Development Foundation, which is wholly owned by the Taiwanese government.
So why change the name now?
The argument for rebranding gained strength in recent months over fears a series of China Airlines’ cargo flights, used to deliver coronavirus medical supplies around the world, were mistakenly thought to be coming from mainland China.
The island’s citizens were enraged and a petition requesting the name change was initiated on Change.org. As of July 23, more than 50,000 people have signed.
This isn’t the first time the airline’s moniker has come into the spotlight, though.
A few Taiwan companies with the word China in their names – including China Airlines – were asked to change their names when Chen Shui-bian was the island’s president in the early 2000s.
The topic resurfaced again in 2016 under Tsai Ing-wen’s leadership.
Those unaware of the region’s geopolitical sensitivities could be forgiven for getting confused about the airline and where it’s headquartered.
Taiwan’s official name is the “Republic of China” (ROC), tracing its founding to 1911 on the Chinese mainland after the collapse of China’s last imperial dynasty.
Mainland China and Taiwan have been governed separately since 1949 following the Communist victory on the mainland after a civil war, although a shared cultural and linguistic heritage mostly endures.
But China considers Taiwan to be an integral part of its territory, and comes down hard on any suggestions to the contrary – even where matters of aviation are concerned.
In 2018, Beijing demanded global airlines change how they refer to Taiwan on their websites or risk sanctions. In response, the White House issued a scathing statement criticizing Beijing for pressuring US carriers and other companies on this issue.
In the end, multiple airlines, including US carriers American Airlines and Delta, complied with the order.
CNN’s Karla Cripps and Shawn Deng contributed to this report.