China is dragging international airlines into the dispute over Taiwan’s sovereignty

time of writing, Delta’s website offers flights to ‘Taipei,’ but includes no country name – as this screenshot of its website shows. Image: author provided.

Taiwanese citizens have been travelling to airports with feelings of nervous trepidation recently. The question preying on their minds: will their passports be accepted as valid travel documents?

Concerns were first aroused by a message that appeared on several social media platforms. It claimed that a Taiwanese national was unable to board an Air Canada flight because the airline would not accept his passport in accordance with new Chinese regulations.

“Due to China’s request,” the post read, “Taiwan is no longer listed as an individual country, passports are invalid, and another ID must be used. Please remember your IDs.”

Although this message was later dismissed by the Taiwanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs as misinformation, the wave of panic that it unleashed is not without reason or precedent. Since the Chinese civil war of 1949, the people of Taiwan have argued that they belong to a sovereign state that is clearly distinct from the Chinese mainland. But China refutes this notion, viewing the island as little more than a wayward province that must be brought back under its authority.

These competing geopolitical visions have resulted in numerous efforts by Beijing to delegitimise Taiwanese claims to independence, such as attempts to stop the flying of the Taiwanese flag and filing protests against national military drills. In recent months, however, China has struck upon an alternative approach: questioning how international airlines refer to Taiwan, and indeed if they should even refer to it at all.

What’s in a name?

On 25 April, a letter from the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) landed on the desks of 36 international air carriers. In it, the CAAC reminded readers that on 27 February he Chinese government had instructed airlines to review their websites, and remove any material that “mistakenly” identified Taiwan, Macau and Hong Kong as independent regions.

The letter also instructed that Taiwan should henceforth be referred to as “Chinese Taiwan” or “Taiwan: province/region of China”. Failure to implement these changes, it went on to state, would result in “disciplinary actions” by the CAAC.

Somewhat unsurprisingly, these demands were not warmly received. Leading the cries of protest was the US president, Donald Trump. In a strongly worded statement released on 5 May, the Trump administration lambasted the CAAC’s letter as a blatant attempt to enforce “Chinese political correctness” as a global standard. The statement said:

This is Orwellian nonsense and part of a growing trend by the Chinese Communist Party to impose its political views on American citizens and private companies. China’s internal Internet repression is world famous. China’s efforts to export its censorship and political correctness to Americans and the rest of the free world will be resisted.

The message from the White House was abundantly clear – the affected airlines should stand firm.

At time of writing, Delta’s website offers flights to ‘Taipei’, but includes no country name as it does for other destinations such as ‘London-Heathrow, United Kingdom’ (see below example) – as this screenshot of its website shows. Image: author provided.

London-Heathrow listed as a destination in ‘United Kingdom’ for comparison. Image: author provided.

Yet the vast majority of air carriers have chosen to bow to Chinese pressure rather than heed the US president’s words. In early June, the chief executive of Qantas, Alan Joyce, announced that the airline would be altering how it referred to Taiwanese airports as soon as possible. And after Beijing set a final deadline of 25 July and rejected pleas for further negotiations, the three largest US air carriers – Delta, United and American Airlines – also elected to meet the CAAC’s demands.

The US State Department later expressed its concern about this decision, while the Taiwanese government responded with a press release condemning China’s “crude attempts to coerce foreign airlines to downgrade Taiwan’s status”.


Consequences

The long-term ramifications of international airlines choosing to comply with the CAAC’s requirements remain to be seen. It is clear, however, that this episode marks a significant defeat for advocates of Taiwanese independence. When next booking a flight to the island, users of some airlines will not be able to select a destination name that reflects Taiwan’s self-ruled status. Instead, they must choose one that places it firmly within China’s geopolitical orbit.

The events of recent months have also provided Chinese authorities with an effective way to challenge Taiwan’s sovereignty without incurring the wrath of the international community. For all its early rhetoric, the Trump administration has been forced to watch helplessly as American carriers are arguably drafted as foot soldiers in support of China’s territorial ambitions.

There are signs that this strategy is also already being deployed outside the airline industry. Earlier this year, the hotel chain, Marriot, was reprimanded by China after an email questionnaire listed Taiwan, Tibet, Hong Kong and Macau as separate “countries”. Japanese retailer Muji, meanwhile, had to pay a fine of 200,000 yuan (£23,400) for using packaging that identified Taiwan as the “country of origin”.

The ConversationThe dispute over Taiwan’s territorial standing, then, has long since spread beyond a small area of the South China Sea – and it is likely to reach even greater heights in the future.

Ed Bryan, PhD Candidate, University of Cambridge

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

The risk of ‘cascading’ natural disasters is rising

A man watches wildfires in California, 2013. Image: Getty.

In a warming world, the dangers from natural disasters are changing. In a recent commentary, we identified a number of costly and deadly catastrophes that point to an increase in the risk of “cascading” events – ones that intensify the impacts of natural hazards and turn them into disasters.

Multiple hazardous events are considered cascading when they act as a series of toppling dominoes, such as flooding and landslides that occur after rain over wildfires. Cascading events may begin in small areas but can intensify and spread to influence larger areas.

This rising risk means decision-makers, urban planners and risk analysts, civil engineers like us and other stakeholders need to invest more time and effort in tracking connections between natural hazards, including hurricanes, wildfires, extreme rainfall, snowmelt, debris flow, and drought, under a changing climate.

Cascading disasters

Since 1980 to January 2018, natural disasters caused an inflation-adjusted $1,537.4bn in damages in the United States.

The loss of life in that period – nearly 10,000 deaths – has been mounting as well. The United States has seen more billion-dollar natural disaster events recently than ever before, with climate models projecting an increase in intensity and frequency of these events in the future. In 2017 alone, natural disasters resulted in $306bn losses, setting the costliest disaster year on record.

We decided it was important to better understand cascading and compound disasters because the impacts of climate change can often lead to coupled events instead of isolated ones. The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, or UNISDR, claims: “Any disaster entails a potentially compounding process, whereby one event precipitates another.”

For example, deforestation and flooding often occur together. When vegetation is removed, top soil washes away and the earth is incapable of absorbing rainfall. The 2004 Haiti flood that killed more than 800 people and left many missing is an example of this type of cascading event. The citizens of the poverty-stricken country destroyed more than 98 per cent of its forests to provide charcoal for cooking. When Tropical Storm Jeanne hit, there was no way for the soil to absorb the rainfall. To further complicate existing issues, trees excrete water vapor into the air, and so a sparser tree cover often yields less rain. As a result, the water table may drop, making farming, which is the backbone of Haiti’s economy, more challenging.


Rising risk from climate change

Coupled weather events are becoming more common and severe as the earth warms. Droughts and heatwaves are a coupled result of global warming. As droughts lead to dry soils, the surface warms since the sun’s heat cannot be released as evaporation. In the United States, week-long heatwaves that occur simultaneously with periods of drought are twice as likely to happen now as in the 1970s.

Also, the severity of these cascading weather events worsens in a warming world. Drought-stricken areas become more vulnerable to wildfires. And snow and ice are melting earlier, which is altering the timing of runoff. This has a direct relationship with the fact that the fire season across the globe has extended by 20 per cent since the 1980s. Earlier snowmelt increases the chance of low flows in the dry season and can make forests and vegetation more vulnerable to fires.

These links spread further as wildfires occur at elevations never imagined before. As fires destroy the forest canopy on high mountain ranges, the way snow accumulates is altered. Snow melts faster since soot deposited on the snow absorbs heat. Similarly, as drought dust is released, snow melts at a higher rate as has been seen in the Upper Colorado River Basin.

Fluctuations in temperature and other climatic patterns can harm or challenge the already crumbling infrastructure in the United States: the average age of the nation’s dams and levees is over 50 years. The deisgn of these aging systems did not account for the effects of cascading events and changes in the patterns of extreme events due to climate change. What might normally be a minor event can become a major cause for concern such as when an unexpected amount of melt water triggers debris flows over burned land.

There are several other examples of cascading disasters. In July, a deadly wildfire raged through Athens killing 99 people. During the same month on the other side of the world in Mendocino, California, more than 1,800 square kilometers were scorched. For scale, this area is larger than the entire city of Los Angeles.

When landscapes are charred during wildfires, they become more vulnerable to landslides and flooding. In January of this year, a debris flow event in Montecito, California killed 21 people and injured more than 160. Just one month before the landslide, the soil on the town’s steep slopes were destabilised in a wildfire. After a storm brought torrential downpours, a 5-meter high wave of mud, tree branches and boulders swept down the slopes and into people’s homes.

Hurricanes also can trigger cascading hazards over large areas. For example, significant damages to trees and loss of vegetation due to a hurricane increase the chance of landslides and flooding, as reported in Japan in 2004.

Future steps

Most research and practical risk studies focus on estimating the likelihood of different individual extreme events such as hurricanes, floods and droughts. It is often difficult to describe the risk of interconnected events especially when the events are not physically dependent. For example, two physically independent events, such as wildfire and next season’s rainfall, are related only by how fire later raises the chances of landslide and flooding.

As civil engineers, we see a need to be able to better understand the overall severity of these cascading disasters and their impacts on communities and the built environment. The need is more pronounced considering the fact that much of the nation’s critical infrastructure is aged and currently operate under rather marginal conditions.

A first step in solving the problem is gaining a better understanding of how severe these cascading events can be and the relationship each occurrence has with one another. We also need reliable methods for risk assessment. And a universal framework for addressing cascading disasters still needs to be developed.

A global system that can predict the interactions between natural and built environments could save millions of lives and billions of dollars. Most importantly, community outreach and public education must be prioritised, to raise awareness of the potential risks cascading hazards can cause.

The Conversation

Farshid Vahedifard, CEE Advisory Board Endowed Professor and Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Mississippi State University and Amir AghaKouchak, Associate Professor of Civil & Environmental Engineering, University of California, Irvine.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.