July 28th 2018

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY The Strange Case of the Vanishing Safe Schools Resources

EDITORIAL By-elections will test Shorten's 'politics of envy' strategy

ASIA-PACIFIC AFFAIRS A modest proposal for Australia's regional security

CANBERRA OBSERVED Odds are that Labor won't Albo Bill aside

TECHNOLOGY Wonder carbon material on cusp of commercialisation

ENVIRONMENT Electric vehicles still only for elitist planet savers

ENERGY SECURITY Steam rail backup could get us out of hot water

ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENT NEG papers over crisis behind energy price hikes

FOREIGN AFFAIRS Beijing goes 'boo', Qantas gets in a flap

EUTHANASIA Death with dignity, or putting Death to death?


MUSIC Aural wallpaper: The background hiss to our lives

CINEMA Ant-Man and the Wasp: Downsized superheroes

BOOK REVIEW Timely essays on religious freedom

BOOK REVIEW Fraudulent father of psychoanalysis



No question about it: the Don is in charge

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Beijing goes 'boo', Qantas gets in a flap

by Jeffry Babb

News Weekly, July 28, 2018

The evocative term “flag carrier” dates back to the early days of aviation, when men wore suits to fly and their companions wore formal dresses. Flying was glamorous – and expensive. Even a short trip could cost several months’ wages. Commonly, men joined the Commonwealth Public Service in the expectation of earning a trip overseas – by air, or course.

“Flag carriers” were so called because they were the national airlines. Often, they literally carried their nation’s flag - on the tailfins of their aircraft, as many still do. Usually, though not always, these airlines were government owned.

The legendary Trans World Airlines (TWA) catered to Hollywood movie stars and other VIPs. TWA was once owned by one of the world’s richest men, Howard Hughes, who had a passion for aviation. Pan American Airlines (Pan Am) was also a private company. Pan Am was said to have an aircraft over every ocean.

Pan Am suffered a mortal blow when Pan Am Flight 103 was blown up over the Scottish village of Lockerbie in 1988 by agents of the Libyan regime of Muammar Gaddafi. Libya later accepted responsibility and paid $2.7 billion compensation for this horrific act of terrorism. Both TWA and Pan Am have ceased to exist.

Qantas, however, remains in business. It is doing better than ever, even though it was privatised in 1995. Qantas remains Australia’s flag carrier, and also its largest airline. Foreigners are often puzzled by the lack of a “u” after the “Q” in Qantas. Australians will tell you that Qantas is an acronym derived from the name “Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services”. Journalists who misspell the Qantas name are told in robust terms that the company is displeased.

Australians expect a lot from Qantas. They are disappointed when they feel the airline has let them down. Australians take seriously the fact that Qantas, according to its own description, is Australia’s flag carrier. In fact, “Qantas is the flag carrier of Australia”.

When Qantas announced that it would describe Taiwan as a territory of China after the People’s Republic of China (PRC) applied some pressure, it was true to say that many people were shocked. Qantas, as the self-described Australian flag carrier, should be reasonably expected to act in the interests of its home country. Legislation has recently passed the Australian Parliament forbidding foreign interference in Australia’s political process.

United States’ airlines have not bowed to the PRC’s demands to devalue Taiwan to the status of a territory.

Australia often underestimates its leverage when dealing with the PRC. Of course, the PRC could cause problems for Qantas. However, many people in Taiwan, and throughout Asia, are accustomed to Beijing’s bullyboy tactics and look for Australia to take a stand. As a self-declared flag carrier, Qantas represents Australia’s values of self-determination and freedom of action.

Of course, it would be extremely naive to assume that foreign countries, including our best allies, don’t attempt to influence Australian policy. That is why they have diplomats. Of course, we do the same thing. But there are boundaries limiting just how far we can go. Interaction can range from gentle persuasion to a “frank and forthright exchange of views”.

Blatantly interfering in the internal affairs of another country is beyond the pale. Take, for example Malaysia’s Anwar Ibrahim. He complained that we did nothing to assist him when he was in jail. Since the recent elections, Anwar is now one of the most powerful men in Malaysia, and is likely to become Prime Minister when Dr Mahathir retires in a few years’ time.

Now, he can say such things. But, given Australia’s prickly relationship with Malaysia, any attempt to influence policy on such a highly sensitive matter would have been most unwise.

Australia aims to punch above its weight in Asia, but it can only do so by constructing coalitions. We are, after all, only a medium-sized actor in Asian terms.

Frances Adamson, current Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), who served as Consul General in Hong Kong as well as head of mission in both Taipei and Beijing, knows her way around Asia. She slammed the PRC move in a Senate Estimates hearing.

Adamson, the first female Secretary of DFAT, has good links to the Turnbull Government. She told the Senate Estimates hearing: “The Government cannot be in a position to tolerate the exercise of economic coercion.”

It is important to be clear why the changing of a name, from “Taiwan” to “territory of China”, is important. The Republic of China (ROC) was established in 1911, led by Dr Sun Yat-sen, after overthrowing 5,000 years of dynas­tic rule. On October 1, 1949, Mao’s communists declared themselves to be the government of all China.

The ROC government retreated to Taiwan, where it continued to assert that the ROC was the legitimate government of all China. Both the ROC and PRC regard Dr Sun as being the founder of modern China.

Since President Xi Jinping took power as the PRC‘s “dictator for life”, Beijing has been stepping up its efforts to grind Taiwan down by peeling away its diplomatic allies and reducing its standing in the world. This is commonly known as “dwarfing” Taiwan. Forcing the world’s airlines to reduce Taiwan to a “territory” is one element of this strategy.

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April 4, 2018, 6:45 pm