Beijing is to ease a ban on foreign airlines starting on Monday next week, changing course one day after the administration of US President Donald Trump demanded that China reopen to US airlines or face curbs on its own carriers flying passengers to the US.
Foreign airlines excluded from an earlier pact would be able to operate one commercial passenger flight to China per week, the Chinese Civil Aviation Administration said.
It did not name any countries or carriers, but the move opens up a chance for US airlines to return for the first time in four months.
While the timing might have been coincidental, it appeared as a concession from China just as tensions between the superpowers are intensifying. The nations are locked in a tussle that began over trade, but escalated to include Beijing’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and its treatment of Hong Kong.
“China and the US should use this opportunity to restore high-level and diplomatic communications as soon as possible,” Nanjing University Institute of International Studies director Zhu Feng (朱峰) said. “Both sides should cut short the hawkish and emotional rhetoric, as they’re against the business interests of both.”
Flights can land in 37 Chinese cities, including Beijing, Shanghai and Wuhan, where the novel coronavirus first emerged.
That list could change in the future, the agency said.
If no passengers on a particular route test positive for the coronavirus for three consecutive weeks, the operating airline can increase services to twice per week, it said.
However, a route would be suspended for a week if five passengers on the same flight tested positive, and if 10 test positive, the route would be halted for four weeks, it added.
China already allowed flights from some foreign airlines under a policy introduced in March that limited them to one trip per week and did not allow them to operate more services than they had scheduled on March 12.
US carriers missed out because they had suspended passenger services to and from China because of the pandemic, which devastated the global aviation industry as countries imposed travel restrictions and demand disappeared.
Washington’s order on Wednesday would stop passenger services by Chinese airlines starting on June 16, although Trump could impose the ban sooner if he chooses. The order stops short of an outright ban, allowing Chinese carriers to operate one flight to the US for each flight that China grants to US carriers.
The US Department of Transportation last month said that China breached a bilateral agreement because it did not respond to requests by Delta Air Lines and United Airlines to resume flights.
Four Chinese carriers have maintained flights to and from US airports.
“The Chinese government’s failure to approve their requests is a violation of our air transport agreement,” the department said on Wednesday.
It also accused China of being “unable to communicate definitively” about when it would allow US carriers to resume flights.
At a briefing in Beijing yesterday afternoon, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Zhao Lijian (趙立堅) said that China has been in close communication with the department, and that the two sides had made progress.
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