Australia says China pressured airline Qantas into website change on Taiwan

Companies should be able to conduct operations free of political pressure from governments, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop says

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 June, 2018, 12:21pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 June, 2018, 10:52pm

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop on Tuesday criticised China for pressuring national flag carrier Qantas Airways to change its website to refer to Taiwan as a Chinese territory, ramping up tensions between the two countries.

Qantas said on Monday it had decided to comply with a request from Beijing to remove references on its websites and in other material that suggest Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau are part of countries independent from China.

Australia’s government already adheres to the one-China policy, which means it does not recognise Taiwan as a country.

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However, Bishop said in an emailed statement that private companies should be able to conduct business operations free from political pressure from governments.

“The decision of how Qantas structures its website is a matter for the company,” she said.

Self-ruled Taiwan is claimed by Beijing as a Chinese territory and has become one of the country’s most sensitive issues and a potential military flashpoint. Hong Kong and Macau are former European colonies that are now part of China but run largely autonomously.

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Speaking in Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said she had noted Bishop’s comments but was not sure what the minister was trying to say.

“Because there is only one China in the world. Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau have always been part of China this is an objective fact and a matter of international consensus,” she said at a daily news briefing.

“When it comes to a matter like this it is not a procedural or technical issue but a major political issue.”

Sino-Australian relations have soured in recent months, just two years into a free-trade pact after Canberra accused Beijing of interfering in its domestic affairs.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull referenced “disturbing reports of Chinese meddling” when he announced plans late last year to introduce tough new legislation to limit foreign influence, including a ban on offshore political donations.

China denied the allegations and lodged a formal diplomatic protest in response.

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Beijing has in recent months renewed its push to force Western companies to comply with its naming standards – which Washington has labelled “Orwellian nonsense” – or risk losing access to China’s huge market.

Clothing supplier Gap and hotel chain Marriott have also come under pressure to amend websites or products that were perceived as slights to its national sovereignty.

Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce said at an annual meeting of global airlines in Sydney that “our intention is to meet the requirements”, but there were some technical delays.

Qantas International chief Alison Webster said: “We have some complexity to work through. This is not just a Qantas airline, it’s a Qantas Group piece that needs to be adjusted.”

The carrier had been given an extension to make the changes, she said.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse