China warns Australia again on tourism and education

Foreign Affairs

Beijing threatens to use outbound Chinese tourism and tuition payments to Australian universities as leverage amid escalating diplomatic tensions between the two countries.

Almost two months ago, Australia began a campaign for transparency from the Chinese government about the origins of COVID-19. Largely, the call echoed the statements of other countries, including Germany and the U.S., but Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison went further and proposed reforms to the World Health Organization that would enable an international investigation on Chinese soil.

That push by Morrison outraged Beijing, and several volleys of accusatory statements pushed Australia-China relations to a new low. Beijing then appeared to follow through on a threat to wield economic leverage against Australia and rejected imports of Australian beef. Later, Australian barley was also hit by Chinese tariffs.

Beijing has kept up the pressure in the past week by issuing a travel warning for Chinese citizens going to Australia, while separately warning Chinese students to “exercise caution” in choosing to study in Australia. Both warnings cited an increase in racial discrimination against Chinese or Asians in Australia. Beijing is reportedly “ignoring Canberra’s pleas” for dialogue to resolve tensions, per Reuters.

  • The Chinese Foreign Ministry reiterated its criticism today of racial discrimination in Australia: “The existing discrimination and violence in Australia has recently been widely reported by Australian media and on the Internet. The Chinese embassy in Australia has also received many complaints and requests for help…We advise Australia [to] face up to its problems, do some soul-searching and take concrete measures to protect the safety, rights and interests of Chinese nationals in Australia.”

Officials, universities, and students in Australia have pushed back against the travel warnings.

  • Prime Minister Morrison called the travel warnings “rubbish,” and decried what he called “coersion” from China, per Reuters.
  • The Group of Eight coalition of Australian research universities said it was “demonstrably untrue” that students were unsafe in Australia, per the Guardian, while Australia’s education ministry also rejected the travel warnings.
  • Some Chinese students in Australia said the warnings were “over the top,” even as they said they had experienced some discrimination, the Australian ABC reports.

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