Spat over how Qantas describes Taiwan worsened by trade dispute
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has warned Beijing against using threats to pressure Qantas to adopt the communist party’s political line on Taiwan, as trade experts warned Australian companies they need to be cautious about doing business in China.
Beijing reacted angrily after the White House labelled as "Orwellian nonsense" a letter sent by China's civil aviation authority to 36 foreign airlines demanding that they refer to Taiwan as part of China.
China's civil aviation authority told Chinese media the statement issued to foreign airlines was not targeted at any particular government, but was part of "a correction campaign".
Ms Bishop, in response to questions from Fairfax Media on China’s demands made it clear the private sector should not be pushed around by the Chinese government.
“The terms that private companies choose to list destinations are a matter for them,” she said. “There should be no pressure from governments, whether ours or others, that threatens the ordinary operations of business.”
Director of China practice at Asialink Business, Nick Henderson, says sensitivities over Taiwan were not a new issue for foreign companies wanting to operate in China, and there had been many instances of companies facing a backlash from Chinese consumers and the government.
The latest letter comes as Beijing's worsening trade spat with the US heightens tensions between the two economic giants.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said on Sunday: “No matter what the United States says, it cannot change the objective fact that there is only one China in the world and that Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan regions are an integral part of the Chinese territory.”
Mr Geng said foreign companies operating in China should "respect the Chinese people's national sentiment".
China's State Council Information Office took to Twitter on Monday, saying: "What if Chinese #airline companies list one of America's 50 states as a country?"
The letter to airlines offered more detailed instructions on how Taiwan should be described when compared with an earlier warning in January that Taiwan not be called a separate country.
Qantas made some changes to its website in January, when the issue first arose, but still does not list Taiwan as part of China, unlike British Airways.
China wants all airlines to refer in their drop-down destination menus to “Taipei, Taiwan, China”. Qantas’ menu refers only to “Taipei, Taiwan”.
This year already, Mercedes Benz, Marriott Hotels, Zara, Delta Airlines and Muji have been forced to apologise or change online material that did not comply with Chinese policy.
Last year, pop singer Katie Perry was banned from entering China because she had worn a sunflower dress at a Taipei concert that was seen to have supported Taiwan's independence. A long list of pop stars have been banned for their support of Tibet.
Qantas believes its material complies with Australia's One China policy.
The war of words between Beijing and Washington on the issue appears to have flared again after trade talks in Beijing on Friday failed to achieve a breakthrough that could avoid a looming tariff war between the world's number one and number two economies.
"As China is evolving politically, the powers that be are really focusing on that sort of thing," Mr Henderson said.
"The trade-based tension is putting the issue into greater prominence."
Ms Bishop said Australia remained committed to this “one China policy”. She said the government would liaise closely with Qantas.
“Until now the parties involved have been able to agree on a workable solution and we hope that can continue.”
Labor's foreign affairs spokeswoman, Penny Wong, said it was "entirely a matter for Qantas, or any other company, how it chooses to best promote the destinations it flies to".
All but 19 countries officially recognise China and do not officially recognise Taiwan. Taiwan was settled by China's fleeing Kuomintang government after Mao's communists took control of the mainland in 1949.