Naming the terminals at most airports is easy – flights inside your country use the ‘domestic’ terminal, and flights to other countries use the ‘international’ terminal. But at the airports in and around China, things get a little more complicated.
Hong Kong International Airport says it all in the name – as the only airport in Hong Kong, it doesn’t have any domestic flights.
But across the border in Mainland China, the word games start at the international terminal, where the signs read ‘International, HK, Macao and Taiwan Departures’.
The reason for Hong Kong and Macao being singled out is their status as a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China – under the One China, Two Systems principle they have their own separate passports, customs territory, and immigration policies.
As a result, any resident of Mainland China can’t just walk onto a flight to Hong Kong or Macau – they need to apply for a ‘People’s Republic of China Exit-Entry Permit for Travelling to and from Hong Kong and Macau’ before they are allowed out of the country.
While Taiwan is an even more complex situation – the Republic of China of the island of Taiwan consider themselves a sovereign nation, while the People’s Republic of China considers the island a renegade province.
A side effect of this mutual repudiation of nationhood is that the two countries refuse to accept each other’s passports, so any Taiwan Nationals arriving into mainland China have to apply for a special ‘Mainland Travel Permit for Taiwan Residents’, and mainland Chinese headed in the reverse direction have to apply for a Republic of China ‘Exit & Entry Permit’.
Clear as mud?
Wikipedia has more detail on the Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China and the One China, Two Systems policy they are subject to.
It also has a primer on the political status of Taiwan, and more about the tongue twisters that are the ‘People’s Republic of China Exit-Entry Permit for Travelling to and from Hong Kong and Macau‘, ‘Mainland Travel Permit for Taiwan Residents‘, and Republic of China Exit & Entry Permit.