Emirates has come under fire in Taiwan after it told its Taiwanese crew to remove pin badges of the island's flag from their uniforms, in response to pressure from China.
A manager of the Dubai-based airline, in an internal e-mail, told the Taiwanese airline's staff to wear pin badges showing China's flag instead, reported Taiwan's Apple Daily newspaper.
"We have been instructed by the Chinese government that with immediate effect, Emirates airline cabin crew are to follow the 'one China' policy.
"This must be followed by all Taiwanese crew without exception," said the e-mail from Ms Nicola Parker, Emirates' uniform standards and development manager.
Emirates' cabin crew wear flag pins to indicate to passengers their nationality and languages spoken. Last year, the airline told its Hong Kong cabin crew members to wear the Chinese flag pin on top of the Hong Kong one.
Ms Parker later apologised for the latest incident in another e-mail, but told the airline's Taiwanese crew to "refrain" from wearing their flag pins "until further notice".
When contacted, Emirates' public relations representative would say only that its headquarters was still "assessing the situation".
CRITICAL OF CHINA
Its actions may be seen as being too harsh and will turn off not only the Taiwanese but also other people, which is not beneficial if it wants to accrue some goodwill in the future. ''
MR EDWARD CHEN I-HSIN, a political expert at the Chinese Culture University.
But in a statement to the BBC, Emirates, the largest airline in the Middle East, apologised yesterday for what it said was a "communication error". The BBC quoted the airline as saying: "An internal e-mail was sent to cabin crew instructing them to remove a flag pin from their uniform and replace it with another flag pin.
"This e-mail was sent in error and has since been retracted."
Emirates was also quoted by the BBC as saying that its intent was to recall flag pins worn by all cabin crew, adding that as part of its new uniform policy, all cabin crew will no longer be required to wear a flag pin on their uniforms.
The incident has nonetheless led to criticism from Emirates' cabin crew members and netizens. Many went to the airline's Facebook page to slam its actions and threatened to boycott it. Others posted pictures of the Taiwanese flag.
Yesterday, the Taoyuan Flight Attendants Union said it hoped Emirates would "respect the national identity of crew members" and not take "a coercive or threatening approach".
The latest controversy comes amid a growing chill across the Taiwan Strait - cross-strait ties have worsened after President Tsai Ing-wen of the independence- leaning Democratic Progressive Party took office last year.
She has refused to acknowledge the "one China" principle, which China insists is crucial to stable cross-strait ties.
As a result, Beijing has stopped all official communication with Taipei, stepped up military drills and tightened the diplomatic noose around Taiwan, which it sees as a breakaway province to be reunited with the mainland eventually.
Under pressure from China, the United Nations' aviation and health agencies have not invited Taiwan to their recent summits.
Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said its trade representative in Dubai has lodged a protest against the Emirates' move, adding that it will "safeguard the dignity of Taiwan, and the rights and interests of its people" despite Beijing's moves to put pressure on Taiwan.
Said Chinese Culture University political expert Edward Chen I-hsin: "China has gone too far this time and is 'over-reaching' in its bid to interfere with an airline's operations.
"Its actions may be seen as being too harsh and will turn off not only the Taiwanese but also other people, which is not beneficial if it wants to accrue some goodwill in the future," he told The Straits Times.