U.S retaliates, bars Chinese airlines from entering country

Following China’s refusal to allow U.S airlines to resume flights to China as the country’s coronavirus pandemic subsides, the U.S government says it is barring passenger flights from China from flying into its territory effectively from June 16.

Relations between the two countries soured after China’s approval of the enactment of national security laws in Hong Kong and Macau last month.

The ban order applies to four airlines – Air China, China Eastern Airlines, China Southern Airlines and Hainan Airlines – which have continued to fly between the two countries during the pandemic, although at reduced levels.

It needs final approval from US President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly accused China of engaging in unfair trade, and in recent weeks criticised its handling of coronavirus and protests in Hong Kong.

The Chinese embassy in Washington did not immediately comment. Officials have previously said its restrictions, which were introduced to control coronavirus, were fair since they apply to all airlines.

Beijing in March said domestic and foreign airlines could operate no more than one weekly flight between China and any given country, adding that carriers could not exceed the level of service they were offering on 12 March.

The Department of Transportation said the March order had effectively banned US airlines, which had voluntarily suspended service between the two countries in February due to the pandemic and Trump’s order barring entry to the US for most Chinese travelers.

It said the refusal to grant requests by US airlines to resume service this month violated the agreement governing air travel between the two countries, which dates back to 1980.

“We conclude that these circumstances require the Department’s action to restore a competitive balance and fair and equal opportunity among US and Chinese air carriers,” the Department of Transportation said.

If the order goes forward, it will hurt travel, trade and other exchange between the two countries, said Daniel Kliman, director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security.

“We’re already seeing de-coupling of the United States and China,” he said, pointing to US efforts to restrict technology sales and the US-China trade war. “It’s an acceleration of a trend that has really been building up.”