I write to you as a Qantas shareholder, as a lifetime member of Qantas Club and as a specialist in China and Taiwan studies.
Let me begin by noting that Australia’s “one China” policy does not accept that Taiwan belongs to China. When we recognized the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on Dec. 21, 1972, we said that we acknowledge “the position of the Chinese government that Taiwan is a province of the People’s Republic of China,” but we did not agree with China’s position.
At this time, Taiwan was under the oppressive dictatorship of Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) and the Taiwanese had no input on policy. Chiang insisted on a “one China” policy and that is why we shifted our recognition of China from Chiang to the PRC.
However, Australia, like Japan, the US, Canada, the UK and many other nations set up officially unofficial offices in Taiwan. With Taiwan’s democratization, and substantial economic growth and development from the late 1980s, these posts in Taiwan and Taiwan’s posts in our countries have become more important. Our Australian Office in Taipei is run by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
China’s claim to Taiwan has no basis in history or in international law. The only time in Taiwan’s history that a Chinese regime based in China ruled Taiwan was from 1945 to 1949, when Chiang established his murderous colonial regime on Taiwan and killed tens of thousands of Taiwanese.
The so-called Qing Dynasty, which ruled China from 1644 to 1911 and Taiwan from 1683 to 1895, was in fact the Manchu Empire and China was a colony of the Manchus just as Taiwan later became a Manchu colony.
China also claims Taiwan through “blood lines” or xuetong (血統). This is racist and I am sure that both Qantas and the Australian government would not like to be associated with such a racist policy.
This racist policy has no basis in fact, because scientists have conducted DNA tests around the world and found that there is no single DNA group for so-called Han Chinese. Rather, the so-called Han people are divided into two different DNA groups, a northern group and a southern group.
I am sure you would agree that racist approaches to territorial claims must be opposed.
Identities change over time. Migrants from southern China to Taiwan initially identified with their local regions of origin. Later, during the 1860s, they began to identity with Taiwan (and not with China).
Such changes of identity are normal around the world. For example, more than 60 years ago, many Australians identified as British. Now they identify as Australians. The same applies to New Zealanders and Canadians.
China is now in a very expansionist, aggressive stage. Its claims to the South China Sea are also illegitimate and ahistorical. Many of the areas China claims are south of Vietnam, at a distance from China of more than 1,500 km.
The Chinese say these islands have belonged to China since the Year Dot, but in fact these seas were dominated by Southeast Asians and later by Arab navigators.
China claims “proof” that China dominated the South China Sea by showing that Chinese goods were in sunken ships, but ocean archaeology demonstrates that the ships were Southeast Asian and Arab, and that the Chinese goods in the ships were only trade goods carried by non-Chinese merchants.
In addition, we have learned that China does not keep its word. The Chinese promised not to militarize the South China Sea islands, but have done precisely that.
What can Qantas do? First, it should not comply with China’s request to change the Qantas Web site. This Chinese behavior is blatant bullying.
Those of us picked on in schoolyards know that giving in to bullying only increases the bullying. One must resist — that is the only way to gain respect from the bully.
Second, Qantas needs to work closely with our government, and with the governments of other democratic countries and the airlines of those countries to resist the pressures in a united, coordinated way. If China threatens that Qantas will not be allowed to fly to China unless it changes its Web site, we can threaten that we will stop all Chinese airlines from flying to Australia.
If all the airlines cooperate, China would then become extremely isolated. If things reached that point, China would give in as international contacts remain important to it. The last thing Chinese today want is isolation, which would remind them of the bad times under Mao Zedong (毛澤東), who died in 1976.
Such an action would temporarily hurt Qantas financially, but it would pay off in the long run.
It is important for Australian businesses to realize that trade is a two-way process and that damage to trade hurts both sides. As long as trade is two-way and cooperative, that benefits both sides, but if one side starts to impose conditions, that will ultimately hurt both sides. We must remain clear that the current threat to Qantas comes from China.
I do hope you will reconsider your policy toward Taiwan and work closely with our government, and the governments and airlines of other democratic powers.
A last note: Taiwan has democratized greatly during the past three decades and become a rare beacon of human rights in Asia. I know that you are concerned with human rights as you made very clear both personally — and on behalf of Qantas — during the same-sex marriage discussion last year.
I do hope that you and Qantas will continue to be supportive of human rights in the Taiwan context. After all, Taiwan — like us — is an important “middle power” in the Indo-Pacific region.
With best wishes,
Bruce Jacobs is emeritus professor of Asian languages and studies at Monash University.
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