The mayor of Rockhampton in Australia has said that the decision to erase Taiwanese flags on a bull statue erected for a cattle event came after Brisbane’s Chinese vice consul contacted the local council.

The regional council of Rockhampton in Queensland, Australia covered up two Taiwanese flags painted by Taiwan-born siblings on a bull statue created to celebrate the community’s cultural diversity. The bulls were for a project organised by the regional council and Beef Australia ahead of a cattle industry event.

Rockhampton Mayor Margaret Strelow said in a response published in The Morning Bulletin that “Rockhampton welcomes people from every country and encourages them to hold fast to their culture.”

bull taiwan flag cover up
Photo: Facebook via Syuan-Si Chen.

“But from the moment a Year 11 student painted the Taiwanese flag and the Chinese characters for ‘Tai Wan’ on a bull sculpture that was to be installed in a public place, our response was inevitably going to be a matter for international comment,” she said.

Strelow said the Chinese vice consul in Brisbane – a regular visitor to Rockhampton – made contact with one of their officers and sent photos of the fish-shaped flags, on which were written the Chinese characters for Taiwan.

“Council officers contacted the school to explain that there was a problem. When the school couldn’t offer a solution, council staff proceeded to paint over the flag and words,” she added.

She said the Australian government’s official agreement with China is that Australia does not recognise Taiwan as a separate country – hence neither the flag nor the Chinese characters were allowed. “We were in a highly charged political minefield.”

“There was no easy or ‘right’ response for us. Council’s actions reflect Australian foreign policy. Negotiating international policy is not our normal role.”

taiwan flag
Taiwan flag. Photo: Alan Wu via Flickr.

China does not recognise Taiwan as a country and has long pressured the international community over its status and the use of the Republic of China flag. Beijing maintains that the island-nation is a renegade province of China.

Strelow also said that she has been receiving hate mail for days and the council has been advised of the prospect of legal action.

The statement ended with Strelow saying that she was not personally involved in the incident. “That said, while I may have wished I had been briefed, I can’t honestly say I would have done anything different.”

“Our goal was to ensure that Beef Week was a success without a diplomatic incident. Mission accomplished. Now to manage the fall out!”

Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.