US to ban passenger flights from China

Air China plane in New Jersey Image copyright Getty Images

The US is to ban passenger flights from China from 16 June, in the latest sign of tensions between the two economic giants.

The Department of Transportation said it was punishing Beijing for refusing to let US flights to China resume due to the coronavirus outbreak.

In recent weeks the countries have sparred over the pandemic and China’s policies in Hong Kong.

But Washington said it would continue to “engage” on the air travel issue.

The Department of Transportation order applies to four airlines – Air China, China Eastern Airlines, China Southern Airlines and Hainan Airlines.

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. Beijing had previously said it opposed any new air travel restrictions.

‘Fair and equal opportunity’

In announcing the ban, the US said it had raised repeated concerns since March, when China restricted international flight arrivals to battle coronavirus.

Beijing had told domestic and foreign airlines to operate no more than one weekly flight between China and any given country, adding that carriers could not exceed capacity they were offering on 12 March.

The Department of Transportation said the order had effectively stopped US airlines from flying to China. Many voluntarily suspended services between the two countries in February due to the pandemic and Mr Trump’s 31 January order barring entry to the US for most Chinese travellers.

The US said China has thus far maintained its restrictions were fair, since they applied to all airlines.

“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.

“Our overriding goal is not the perpetuation of this situation but rather an improved environment.”

Delta Airlines, one of the companies that had sought to resume flights this month, said it welcomed the move.

“We support and appreciate the US government’s actions to enforce our rights and ensure fairness,” it said

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