The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) yesterday said that it never called Australians "moral cowards" but had urged the Australian government to be even-handed in dealing with relations between Taiwan and China.
In an article entitled "Taiwan calls us moral cowards" in yesterday's edition of the Australian daily, director-general of East Asian and Pacific Affairs Gary Lin (林松煥) was quoted as criticizing Australia for "lack of moral courage."
The quote "lack of moral courage" in the lead of the story, however, did not appear in any other context in the online version of the report.
Lin, who was interviewed by the Australian's China correspondent in Taipei on Thursday, was quoted as saying that Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer "was like British prime minister Neville Chamberlain prior to World War II who, by appeasing Hitler, had missed the chance to avoid war."
The paper said Lin criticized Australia's "one-sided" support of China and that such support could "hasten a war or even make a war possible."
"If Australia puts its weight behind the People's Republic of China [PRC], and the PRC feel they are assured they will not face any opposition when they invade Taiwan, in that case they will really start a war," Lin was quoted as saying.
Lin, in a telephone interview with the Taipei Times, yesterday stressed that he never used the word "cowards" and that the editors at the Australian had come up with the title of the report.
Saying that Australia needed to readjust its "one China" policy, Lin insisted that his comments were aimed at Australia's policy on China and Taiwan rather than at Downer personally for his recent comments which riled Minister of Foreign Affairs Mark Chen (陳唐山).
Downer, during a visit to Beijing last month, spoke of a new strategic partnership between Australia and China extending beyond commercial interests and into the political sphere. Downer said Australia would not necessarily side with the US against China in support of Taiwan if hostilities broke out.
"Personally, I have nothing against Downer. He is an outstanding minister and I respect him," Lin said, adding he hoped Australia could adopt a more "reasonable, flexible and even-handed" approach in tackling cross-strait issues.
"It is the responsibility and duty of Australia, a democratic country, to urge China to change its mindset and tactics in dealing with Taiwan," Lin said. "Taiwan wants peace in the Taiwan Strait."
"It's not a troublemaker," he said.
He added that Australia should not support China in sabotaging Taiwan's relationship with diplomatic allies in the South Pacific.
Lin also told the Australian that Australia went too far last November by intervening on behalf of China and protesting against Kiribati's move to establish diplomatic relations with Taiwan.
"You instructed your high commissioner in Kiribati to urge [President] Anote Tong not to establish relations with us," Lin said.
A spokesman for Downer told the Australian that "Australia has supported a `one China' policy since 1972 and it is a bipartisan position."
MOFA spokesman Michel Lu (呂慶龍) said Taiwan "wants to maintain smooth communication channels with Australia."
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY MARTIN WILLIAMS