SYDNEY, June 5 (Reuters) - Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop on Tuesday criticised China for pressuring national flag carrier Qantas Airways Ltd to change its website to refer to Taiwan as a Chinese territory, ramping up tensions between the two countries.
Qantas said on Monday it had decided to comply with a request from Beijing to remove references on their websites or in other material that suggest Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau are part of countries independent from China.
Australia’s government already adheres to the one-China policy, which means it does not recognise Taiwan as a country.
However, Bishop said in an emailed statement private companies should be able to conduct business operations free from political pressure from governments.
“The decision of how Qantas structures its website is a matter for the company,” she said.
China’s embassy in Australia did not immediately respond to request for comment.
Self-ruled Taiwan is claimed by Beijing as a Chinese territory, and has become one of China’s most sensitive issues and a potential military flashpoint. Hong Kong and Macau are former European colonies that are now part of China but run largely autonomously.
Sino-Australian relations have soured in recent months, just two years into a free trade pact after Canberra accused Beijing of interfering in its domestic affairs.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull referenced “disturbing reports of Chinese meddling” when he announced plans in late 2017 to introduce tough new legislation to limit foreign influence, including a ban on offshore political donations.
China denied the allegations, and lodged a formal diplomatic protest in response. (Reporting by Colin Packham. Editing by Jane Wardell and Sam Holmes)