China reopens to more foreign airlines after coronavirus lockdown

China will allow more foreign airlines to resume flights to its cities, in a move that comes a day after the US government threatened to bar Chinese carriers if the country did not reopen to American passenger aircraft.

Foreign airlines that were at present unable to send international flights into China would now be able to fly to one city each week from Monday next week, the country’s transport regulator said on Thursday. 

The Civil Aviation Administration of China did not refer to specific countries. But it said the measures would apply to any foreign airlines not included in a plan unveiled in March that rationed international flights. That plan barred US carriers from mainland China.

Tensions between Beijing and Washington over passenger air traffic have escalated over recent months, at a time when international flights have fallen sharply because of the coronavirus pandemic. The clash has come alongside a wider deterioration in relations between the two countries over trade and the status of Hong Kong.

China’s announcement follows a US decision on Wednesday to ban the country’s passenger airlines from June 16 if Beijing did not lift restrictions on American carriers. The US said it would be “fully prepared to revisit the action” if China allowed access.

Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for China’s ministry of foreign affairs, said Beijing regretted Washington’s decision but was in conversations to reach a resolution.

“The two sides have already made some progress. China has also made policy adjustments,” he said. “We hope that the US will not create obstacles for solving problems.”

Luya You, an analyst at Bocom International, said the Chinese announcement was “generally expected” as the country began to ramp up its domestic and international flight routes.

She added that it could represent a “short-term ceasefire” in the feud over air travel between the countries but warned that the hurdles with Washington “seem to indicate the US-China aviation proxy war is still far from over”.

China introduced restrictions on air traffic in late March, limiting international flights based on the passenger schedules of domestic and foreign airlines on March 12. At this time, US airlines had stopped flying to and from China.

Other international carriers have continued to access China. 

Beijing’s decision to allow more foreign flights comes as the country has been gradually easing other travel restrictions introduced earlier this year over fears that a second wave of coronavirus cases could be imported from overseas. 

China had already agreed to resume essential business and official travel with Singapore. The city-state requires travellers to test for coronavirus prior to departure.

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