China warns students about choosing to study in ‘racist’ Australia

Zhang Qingqing studies at home in Chongqing while waiting to take a US university entrance exam. (AP pic)

BEIJING: China on Tuesday urged students going overseas to think carefully before choosing Australia, citing a spate of racist incidents targeting Asians during the Covid-19 pandemic and putting A$12 billion of fee revenue at risk.

The Ministry of Education’s warning came days after the Chinese culture and tourism ministry advised citizens against travelling to Australia due to racial discrimination and violence stemming from the coronavirus outbreak, which first emerged in China in late 2019.

The education ministry made a statement advising overseas students “to conduct a good risk assessment and be cautious about choosing to go to Australia or return to Australia to study”.

Australian Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said Australia had established processes to stamp out racism.

“We’re a country that has zero tolerance (towards racism),” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

“Not zero incidents, I understand that, but I think the idea that Australia, in any way, is an unsafe destination for visitors to come to is one that just does not stand up to scrutiny.”

Relations between Australia and China have become strained since the Australian government proposed an international inquiry into how the Covid-19 outbreak in China became a global pandemic.

The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper reported on Sunday a survey conducted by the Per Capita think tank had documented 386 racist incidents – ranging from abuse to physical intimidation and spitting – since April 2.

China has imposed tariffs on Australian barley imports and blocked some beef imports, though Beijing has denied its actions are connected to the Covid-19 dispute.

Australia has also spoken out over China’s proposed national security laws for Hong Kong, which critics say undermines freedom in the former British colony.

The Australian dollar slipped further on Tuesday on the Chinese education ministry’s warning, falling 1% to US$0.6951.

About 10% of university students in Australia are from China, and deliver the industry about A$12 billion a year in fees.

Universities Australia declined to comment on the warning, saying it was a matter for the governments of Australia and China.