Australia Rebuffs China’s Warning to Students on Racist Attacks
Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government rejected China’s call for its citizens to reconsider studying in Australia due to the risk of racist attacks, as the multi-billion education industry becomes the latest flash point in an escalating diplomatic spat between the nations.
“People understand that this is a safe country to come to, where we’ve got world-class educational offerings,” Education Minister Dan Tehan told Sky News. “We are an incredibly tolerant society. We’re a multicultural society.”
China’s education ministry on Tuesday said that during the coronavirus pandemic there had been a “number of discriminatory incidents against Asians in Australia” and its citizens should “carefully assess the risks in deciding whether to study in or return to Australia right now.” It’s the first such warning issued this year against any nation, and comes just days after the tourism ministry cautioned its citizens not to travel to Australia.
There are increasing signs of a widening rift between the key trading partners after Morrison led calls for an independent probe into the origins of Covid-19. Beijing responded with verbal attacks, accusing Australia of doing the bidding of the U.S. New tariffs on Australian barley and a ban on beef from four meatworks have raised concerns in Canberra that the Chinese government is retaliating with “economic coercion.”
Last year, more than 200,000 Chinese students studied in Australia, making it the nation’s largest education services export market. China accounted for 27% of international students in Australia as of March this year, and the higher education sector generated A$15.9 billion ($11 billion) in international student tuition fees in 2018-19, according to research firm IBISWorld.
Chinese travelers are also Australia’s largest source of international tourism revenue and on Friday, Beijing warned its citizens against visiting the nation due to the risk of racist attacks. While Australia’s borders are currently closed to non-residents due to the pandemic, the education and tourism warnings could have a big impact on the economy once travel restrictions are lifted.
“There have been many discrimination cases against Chinese nationals, Chinese Australians and even Asians in Australia,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told reporters on Monday. “We also advise the Australian side to pay attention to the problems and take concrete measures to protect the security, rights and interests of Chinese nationals in Australia.”
China’s education ministry issued a warning about studying in the U.S. in 2019, citing tighter visa restrictions, and issued a notice in 2018 telling students in Australia to be vigilant about personal safety after several incidents of crime.
Australia’s leading universities rejected the latest warning, saying the nation and its schools “remain safe destinations for all of our students.”
“Our duty of care extends to all of our students, domestic and international, and never more so at this time while we are in the middle of a global pandemic,” said Vicki Thomson, chief executive of the Group of Eight. “Statements such as this do make things more difficult at an already difficult time.”
The Australian Human Rights Commission says that it recorded more complaints of racial abuse in February than at any time over the past 12 months and that one third of all complaints since the start of that month have been related to Covid-19. Incidents have fallen to within the usual range since then. Still, the commission is calling better data collection to record and monitor racism as the statistics only capture a fairly small number of complaints that allege a breach of the Racial Discrimination Act.
Even before Australia called for a probe into the origins of the coronavirus, its diplomatic ties with Beijing were under stress. The government cited Beijing’s “meddling” in national affairs as a catalyst for its anti-foreign interference laws passed in 2018, the same year it banned Huawei Technologies Ltd. from helping build its 5G network.
Australia announced Friday that it will implement a tougher screening regime on foreign investors seeking to buy sensitive assets, with telecommunications, energy, technology and defense-manufacturing companies to be included in the zero-dollar threshold for scrutiny.
A report released Tuesday showed that Chinese investment in Australia plunged 58.4% last year to A$3.4 billion -- the lowest level since 2007.
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