It looks like failed Qantas
Singapore experiment, alias Jetstar Asia, is among the first of the recent rash
of regional low-cost carriers to be fitting a parachute following yesterday’s
admission that it’s in talks with fellow LCC, Valuair. The Smage has the story here.

Qantas
realised its 49% investment in Jetstar Asia was in trouble within weeks
of its December launch – but one of
the reasons for the failure has been left politely unstated: Singaporeans are
not the most loved members of the regional community. Qantas has whinged
about the Singapore government not doing enough to help Jetstar Asia win access
to profitable routes, evidence of Singaporean perfidy and somehow a reason for
not allowing Singapore Airlines access to the Sydney-LA route.

But Qantas has also found that it is better to be
Australian in Asia than Singaporean. Whatever our failings, much of the rest of
the region prefers to deal with us than the Singaporeans who are sometimes seen
as being far too smart, superior and successful for their own good.

And there is the little matter of racism. While we whip
ourselves occasionally about racist attitudes and the embarrassing Paulines in
our midst, you don’t have to search very hard in south-east Asia to find people
who don’t really like Chinese very much – Singapore’s dominant race. Malaysia
maintains official policies that discriminate against its own citizens of
Chinese descent and the people who ran amok in Indonesia 40 years ago murdering
half a million or so Chinese never faced any retribution and many, presumably,
have grown respectably old and powerful despite the blood on their hands.

Even infinitely pragmatic China
has some reservations about Singapore.
Never underestimate Beijing’s long memory about Singapore’s fierce
anti-communism – or any other sleight or damage suffered by the Middle Kingdom over
the past couple of centuries. With Jetstar Asia, Qantas has discovered what Singapore Airlines painfully
realised with Air New Zealand and Virgin
Atlantic – there’s really not much mileage in being a minority shareholder. The
Valuair talks look like a search for an exit strategy.

Peter Fray

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