“Incomprehensible”: Beijing lambasted on Tuesday Paris’ decision to limit Chinese flights to France to only one a week, in the name of reciprocity vis-à-vis Air France.
China, the first country where the new coronavirus was detected at the end of 2019, drastically reduced its air links with the rest of the world at the end of March, for fear of the arrival of new COVID-19 patients.
The Asian country, where the epidemic has been practically eradicated with zero deaths since mid-May, however authorizes since June 8 several foreign companies (including Air France) to ensure a weekly connection from and to its territory.
China having three large companies flying internationally (Air China, China Eastern, China Southern), the latter could each fly one China-France flight per week; three in total.
Paris is campaigning for the same rights for Air France (the only French company going to China). That is to say three weekly connections with the Asian country.
Faced with the supposed slowness of the procedures, France decided to take a retaliatory measure: limit to a weekly air link the service of French territory by Chinese companies, in the name of “reciprocity”.
“The French side’s unilateral decision to cut flights is damaging to Chinese airlines and the people of both countries,” the Chinese embassy in France said on Tuesday.
“We deeply regret” this initiative from Paris, she said in a statement posted on its website.
Concretely, the French decision amounts to removing two connections per week for Chinese companies. The only weekly Chinese flight should now alternate between Air China, China Eastern and China Southern.
The priority of the Chinese authorities is to limit the arrival of new COVID-19 patients on their territory; especially from countries where the management of the epidemic is more lax.
In early June, however, China announced a limited resumption of international flights, after Washington threatened to suspend flights by Chinese companies to the United States.
Foreign air carriers must, however, first obtain the green light from the city of arrival, which complicates the procedures. Air France wants additional routes to Shanghai.
Beijing is de facto inaccessible, because China requires a medical stopover in the provinces for any international flight to its capital. A restriction which imposes high costs and very difficult operational conditions for foreign companies to fulfill.
Even Shanghai already hosts “a large number of international flights” and is “under enormous health management pressure,” said the Chinese embassy.
According to her, however, Air France’s request was in the process of being accepted. And Paris’s “unilateral” decision would have ruined everything.
“Given the Sino-French friendship and the need for bilateral human mobility, the Chinese side (had) exceptionally given its agreement for Air France alone to operate three flights per week to China, including one to Shanghai” says the embassy.
“While the authorities in Shanghai (had) already authorized the second weekly flight of Air France Paris-Shanghai and there were (only) the formalities which are being finalized at the level of the Chinese central government, it is incomprehensible that the French side decides to impose the reduction of flights by Chinese airlines ”.
Will this dossier have repercussions on bilateral relations?
The Chinese Embassy stresses that “the peoples of the two countries are linked by a traditional friendship”, inherited in particular from the fact that France was the first major western country to recognize People’s China in 1964.
But the rest of the press release is more ambiguous.
“Although the issue of thefts concerns only a specific sector, it could damage the friendly atmosphere between the two countries if it is not resolved adequately,” said the Chinese diplomatic representation.
She hopes that France can “take into account the interest of bilateral relations” and “return to the path of dialogue” to “find an adequate solution”.