Australia Decries China Pressure as Qantas Yields Over Taiwan

(Bloomberg) -- Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop says companies should be able to operate free from pressure from foreign governments after Qantas Airways Ltd. bowed to demands that it refer to Taiwan as being part of mainland China.

Australia’s flagship carrier is one of 44 airlines asked by the Civil Aviation Administration of China to modify how they refer to Taiwan on their websites. Qantas’s Chief Executive Officer Alan Joyce on Monday said he intends to meet the requirement, following other airlines such as Air France-KLM and Deutsche Lufthansa AG.

“Private companies should be free to conduct their usual business operations free from political pressure of governments," Bishop said in a emailed statement on Tuesday, while also noting that “the decision of how Qantas structures its website is a matter for the company."

Bishop’s intervention risks intensifying a diplomatic spat between her government and China, triggered in December when Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said reports of Chinese meddling with media, universities and lawmakers were a catalyst for tougher anti-foreign interference laws.

Amid reports of a diplomatic freeze between the nations, the foreign minister last month said she wanted to visit China “very soon” for official talks with counterpart Wang Yi, who issued a May 22 statement blaming Australia for the tensions.

The Chinese government considers Taiwan a renegade island to be united with the mainland, while Hong Kong and Macau -- also requested by the aviation authority to be referred to as Chinese territories -- are special administrative regions that enjoy greater autonomy. Beijing objects to references indicating that they are independent.

Australia’s foreign-interference legislation has been drafted to ban foreign political donations and require people or organizations acting in the interests of overseas powers to register and disclose their ties. Turnbull’s government is aiming for it to pass parliament later this month, even as it tries to maintain economic ties with its most important trading partner.

Former foreign minister Bob Carr said Tuesday that five Australian journalists being funded to visit China by the Australia-China Relations Institute, a think tank that he directs, have been denied visas. The move was “more than a bureaucratic challenge," Carr said in an ABC radio interview, indicating he thought the visa rejections may be “part of a freeze in the relationship."

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