Malcolm Turnbull kowtows to Beijing over Taiwan references by Qantas

Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull kowtows to Beijing over Qantas references to Taiwan, despite defense head calling it 'economic coercion'

Caricature of Malcolm Turnbull. (Image from flickr user DonkeyHotey)

Caricature of Malcolm Turnbull. (Image from flickr user DonkeyHotey)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- Despite his own defense minister condemning China's bullying of Qantas over its website references to Taiwan, Australia's Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is backing the airline's buckling to Beijing.

On Monday of this week (June 4) Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said Monday that Australia’s flag carrier airline was in the process of changing its website in accordance with a letter addressed to 44 foreign airline companies sent in April, China’s civil aviation authorities demanded the carriers remove Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau from the list of countries on their websites or other materials. The Qantas website will now be dutifully updated to make it appear as if Taiwan is a part of China.

Despite statements issued by his own defense minister and foreign minister condemning Beijing's bullying, Turnbull on Tuesday (June 5) defended the Australian air carrier's bowing to China's demands. Turnbull described Australia's relationship with Taiwan as something to "deal with," while parroting China's "one China" mantra as he was quoted by ABC News as saying, "We deal with Taiwan of course, but we have a 'one China' policy."

Turbull's logic was that Australia only officially has diplomatic relations with China, "Our diplomatic relations are with China, and the People's Republic of China, and our embassy is in Beijing." However, the ABC News article pointed out that Australia exports US$8.7 billion in goods to Taiwan, and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade trade keeps data on Taiwan separate from that of China.

In stark contrast, Australian Defence Minister Marise Payne at a Senate estimates hearing held on June 1 said:

"(This is) just a clear statement that the government is strongly opposed to the exercise of economic coercion. While we may express views in a variety of ways, sometimes very publicly, sometimes behind the scenes, the government cannot be in a position to tolerate the exercise of coercion."

In January of this year, Qantas bowed to pressure from Beijing to change the designation of Taiwan on their website. On Jan. 16, the company released a statement; “Due to an oversight, some Chinese territories were incorrectly listed as countries on parts of our website. We are correcting this error.”

However, Qantas' moves seem to have not appeased the communist regime in Beijing as the latest letter received in late April apparently went into more detail about additional changes it wants the Australian air carrier to make.

On May 7, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop also pushed back against Beijing's pressure on Australian companies, "The terms that private companies choose to list destinations are a matter for them," according to the Sydney Morning Herald. She then added that "There should be no pressure from governments, whether ours or others, that threatens the ordinary operations of business."