The Trump administration ordered a suspension of flights on Wednesday from China to the United States as tensions escalate between the two countries over the coronavirus and Hong Kong.

The order, which takes effect June 16, stems from  Beijing’s refusal to allow U.S. carriers to resume flying to China. Four Chinese airlines currently fly to China from the U.S.: Air China, China Eastern, China Southern and Xiamen.

President Donald Trump imposed travel restrictions on China on Jan. 31 as the coronavirus began to spread early this year. His decision came after Delta, American and United and other major international carriers had stopped flying to China because of the outbreak.

In early January, U.S. and Chinese carriers operated 325 scheduled flights a week between the two countries. By mid-February, four Chinese airlines operated 20 flights per week. In mid-March, the Chinese carriers increased their weekly flights to 34.

In a March 26 decision, China’s civil aviation agency limited foreign airlines to one weekly flight into China, aiming to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Two major American carriers, Delta and United, have been pressing Chinese officials to allow them to resume service, to no avail. The carriers had intended to restart China service in early June.

“We look forward to resuming passenger service between the United States and China when the regulatory environment allows us to do so,” said Leslie Scott, a United spokesperson.

“We support and appreciate the U.S. government’s actions to enforce our rights and ensure fairness,” said Lisa Hanna, a Delta spokesperson.

Commercial aviation between the two countries is governed by a 1980 agreement that guarantees an equal opportunity to operate scheduled flights on specific routes.

The Trump administration’s latest move comes amid escalating tensions between the U.S. and China, which some have warned amount to a new “cold war” between the world’s two largest economies.Get the Travel newsletter in your inbox.

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“This move comes at a time when the diplomatic relationship between the two countries continues to crater amid disputes on nearly every bilateral and global issue – from Hong Kong to the South China Sea to arms control,” said Jacob Stokes, a senior China policy analyst with the U.S. Institute of Peace, a nonpartisan institute.

Trump has accused China of a coronavirus cover-up, suggested the government may have allowed the disease to spread and threatened to extract a “substantial” price from Beijing for the pandemic. And last week, Trump blasted China for President Xi Jinping’s move to impose sweeping new restrictions on Hong Kong, aimed at stifling the territory’s pro-democracy movement.

Chinese officials have charged the Trump administration with willful ignorance, dangerous mismanagement and even attempted blackmail. In response to the Trump administration’s criticisms of  Beijing’s Hong Kong crackdown, Chinese officials have pointed to the unrest in the U.S. over the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white police officer knelt on his neck.

“I can’t breathe,” Hua Chunying, China’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, tweeted last week, echoing Floyd’s words during the police encounter.

Her tweet came after the State Department’s chief spokeswoman called on the world to “hold to account the Chinese Communist Party, which has flagrantly broken its promises to the people of Hong Kong.”

Some experts fear the spiraling tensions could jeopardize the much-touted trade deal that Trump and Chinese Vice Premier Lui He signed at the White House in January – a “phase one” agreement that White House officials said would be followed by a broader pact dealing with more contentious issues. 

It’s unclear if China will be willing or able to follow through on its commitments in the phase one agreement, which included a promise to buy an extra $200 billion in American goods and services over the next two years.

The Trump administration’s watchword on China policy has been “reciprocity,” Stokes said, and this move is in line with that tit-for-tat approach.

But the policy hasn’t had the desired effect of forcing China to recalibrate its actions. The practical effect, he said, has been a “decoupling” between the world’s two largest economies “rather than forcing Beijing to open up.”


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