Australian Prime Minister defends Qantas over Taiwan decison

Image Source: Qantas website

Australia’s Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, has defended Qantas after it gave in to pressure from China over references to Taiwan on the Qantas website.

Qantas announced yesterday that it would adjust it’s website to reflect Taiwan as part of China. The move comes after the Chinese civil aviation authority sent letters to 30 airlines in April requesting they remove references to Taiwan as a separate country from their websites. The letter gave a deadline of 25 May. Qantas applied for and was granted an extension.

ABC Australia reports Alan Joyce, Qantas CEO, told the IATA Conference in Sydney that the decision was in line with Australia’s foreign policy. “Airlines don’t decide what a country is called, governments do. At the end of the day, the Australians — like a lot of countries — have a ‘one China’ policy. So we’re not doing anything different than the Australian Government is doing in that case, and I think that’s the case for a lot of airlines.”

Prime Minister Turnbull, from the Liberal Party (Australia’s major Conservative party) said, “Our diplomatic relations are with China, and the People’s Republic of China, and our embassy is in Beijing. We deal with Taiwan of course, but we have a ‘one China’ policy.”

The Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten, from the Australian Labor Party, told ABC it was a pretty complex issue. “I’d probably rather that hadn’t happened. But having said that, that’s a business decision for Qantas, I’m not going to start running their airline for them.”

Last week the Secretary of Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) told the Australian Senate in estimates, “I just want to be clear that 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 economic coercion.”

The Australian Financial Review says other senior Australian government Ministers – Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop, Defence Minister Marise Payne and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Transport Michael McCormack – have criticized China while excusing Qantas’ decision.

Foreign Minister Bishop released a statement saying, “private companies should be free to conduct their usual business operations free from political pressure of governments. The decision of how Qantas structures its website is a matter for the company.”

Deputy Prime Minister McCormack said, “There should be no political pressure from governments that threatens the ordinary operations of business.”

While Minister Payne said, “We do not think that companies should be directed one way or another to how they display information in terms of scheduling or their website by anybody in particular, and if they make decisions in that regard that is for them.”

The DFAT website states, however, “The Australian Government does not recognise [Taiwan] as a sovereign state and does not regard the authorities in Taiwan as having the status of a national government.” Despite this DFAT seperates Taiwan trade data from that of China’s.

Other airlines have also responded to China’s requests, with 18 now listing Taiwan as part of China, including British Airways, Lufthansa, Air France, and Air Canada. Singapore Airlines would not comment.

Lufthansa told ABC, “As a company operating globally, Lufthansa considers general laws, regulations, local customs and practices in markets we serve when designing online interfaces to customers. This includes taking customs of the international clientele into consideration.”

Air Canada CEO, Calin Rovanescu, told the IATA conference, “As difficult and sensitive a decision as this is, our view is that we will comply with the Chinese government requirement. We’re not making any political statement. Airlines have enough issues to deal with.”

American Airlines has not made any changes. CEO Doug Parker told the conference, “We received the notice but then the United States has replied and we’re following the direction of the US Government. Right now it’s between our government and their government.”

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