Less than 24 hours after Pan American resumed service to Taiwan, China stripped the airline of certain aviation privileges on the mainland today and urged the U.S. government to name another carrier for the Sino-American route.
The reprisals, while dealing another blow to sagging relations between the United States and China, stopped short of interrupting air links. Pan Am, the only American carrier serving the mainland, apparently will continue for the time being to enjoy landing rights for its twice-weekly flights to Peking.
Today's regularly scheduled Pan Am flight, loaded with American tourists and businessmen, landed here tonight without incident.
Pan Am, which gave up its Taiwan route in 1978 in anticipation of more lucrative mainland business, decided for "economic reasons" to restart service to Taipei, seat of the rival Chinese government. The first flight arrived there last night.
China's Foreign Ministry responded today with a strong protest to the U.S. Embassy in Peking, blaming the Reagan administration for approving Pan Am's service to the island. Such approval, according to the protest, flouted Chinese sovereignty.
Specific reprisals were contained in a separate letter from the Civil Aviation Administration of China announcing:
"Immediate cutoff of Pan Am's rights to fly directly over South China in flights to Hong Kong from points west, such as Bangkok. Immediate cutoff of Pan Am's emergency landing rights in Canton for troubled flights headed for nearby Hong Kong."
Asking Washington to designate a different American airline for the U.S.-Chinese route, it also requested consultations "to avoid further damage" to aviation relations.
U.S. Embassy officials, who said they have told Chinese authorities they have no power to interfere in Pan Am's commercial activities, refused further comment.
Knowledgeable diplomatic sources said, however, that Peking displayed restraint by permitting Pan Am to continue operations here. The Chinese government thus honored a provision of the bilateral aviation agreement requiring one year's notice before terminating service by a designated carrier.
Unless Pan Am withdraws from the China market, said the sources, it has a legal right to maintain service to the mainland for at least another year. Peking is not known to have given notice of a change.
John Shumaker, Pan Am's vice president for Asia, said tonight that his company "intends to have a long-time operation in China and we don't want to give it up." He said Pan Am "regrets" the action, although the immediate impact appears limited. The airline has never used its emergency landing privilege in Canton, he said, and has no flights to Hong Kong from points west.
Pan Am resumed flying to China in 1981, opening the first commercial air link since the Communist takeover in 1949. The air service was made possible after Washington shifted its diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Peking in 1979.
The financially strapped airline operated at a loss in China last year. Its planes were flying with an average of 30 percent of seat capacity sold.