China Breaks Promise to US on Airlines and Gets a Tiny Slap on the Wrist

August 20, 2021 Updated: August 20, 2021


China and the United States are in a tit-for-tat fight over airline travel between the two countries. China started it, by unfairly imposing restrictions on United Airlines for some of its passengers who tested positive for COVID-19 after they landed.

Hitting China back for this predatory air travel policy is the right strategy. But the U.S. counter is tiny in comparison to what needs to be done, starting with trillions of dollars in compensation for losses from COVID-19 and intellectual property theft by China that reaches as much as $600 billion annually against the United States.

U.S. cancellation of four Chinese flights, in response to the same from China, only serves to clarify the paucity of America’s defenses against the much bigger harms done by the Chinese Communist Party.

United Airlines, which complied with preflight checks and inflight protocols, couldn’t have known in advance that five of its San Francisco passengers on July 21 would allegedly test positive for COVID-19 after their arrival in Shanghai. Neither would United be able to confirm that the infections occurred before or after the passengers arrived in China.

The positive tests in China allegedly occurred on the same day as the flight, serving as the spurious justification for the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) to impose restrictions on Aug. 6 against future United flights to China.

The Biden administration’s Department of Transportation (DOT), led by Pete Buttigieg, rightly objected, and repeatedly so, against the unilaterally-imposed Chinese restrictions. Lacking a constructive response from Chinese authorities, the DOT finally retaliated in kind, according to reporting by Reuters and Flight Global.

On Aug. 18, the DOT limited four U.S.-China flights, one from each of four Chinese companies, to 40 percent capacity. The limits will begin against Air China on Aug. 23, then proceed over the following month to China Eastern Airlines, China Southern Airlines Company, and Xiamen Airlines.

The DOT said China’s “circuit breaker” policy violated the countries’ air services agreement, which allows 100 flights between the countries per week, and “places undue culpability on carriers with respect to travelers that test positive for COVID-19 after their arrival in China.” The department reasonably noted that “As carriers are following all relevant Chinese regulations with respect to pre-departure and in-flight protocols, they should not be penalized as a result of travelers later testing positive.” It added that carriers “have no means to independently verify positive test results alleged by Chinese authorities. Furthermore, there is no way to establish where or when a traveler may have contracted” COVID-19.

United Airlines responded to the U.S. sanctions by saying that it was “pleased to see this action by the [DOT] in pursuit of fairness in this important market.”

The United States increased its commitment to “reciprocity” against predatory Chinese trade practices during President Trump’s term in office. In June 2020, the Trump administration responded to Beijing’s failure to immediately agree to a restoration of U.S. flights, for example, by threatening to bar Chinese flights.

The Biden administration is right to impose reciprocal sanctions on China, but such pinpricks will not fix the main forms of economic predation practiced by the country, and do nothing to address China’s economic predation against other countries. The United States must get much tougher against China’s predatory economic practices, or expect to continue America’s economic decline relative to its totalitarian adversary.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Anders Corr
Anders Corr
Anders Corr has a bachelor's/master's in political science from Yale University (2001) and a doctorate in government from Harvard University (2008). He is a principal at Corr Analytics Inc., publisher of the Journal of Political Risk, and has conducted extensive research in North America, Europe, and Asia. He authored “The Concentration of Power” (forthcoming in 2021) and “No Trespassing,” and edited “Great Powers, Grand Strategies.”