China warns students to think twice before choosing Australia due to racist incidents

China last week advised the public to avoid travelling to Australia. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (REUTERS, BLOOMBERG) - China on Tuesday (June 9) urged students going overseas to study to think carefully before choosing Australia, due to a spate of racial incidents targeting Asians in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Ministry of Education's warning comes 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 was first detected in China in late 2019.

In its statement, the education ministry said during the outbreak, "there were a number of discriminatory incidents against Asians in Australia," and it reminded students "to carefully assess the risks in deciding whether to study in or return to Australia right now."

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.

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."

While Australia is still blocking international leisure travellers and students from entering the country due to the pandemic, the warning could have a big impact on the nation's economy should they remain in place when borders reopen.

The Chinese statement was the first warning this year about studying in another country.

In 2019, China's education ministry issued a warning about studying in the US, 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.

In its statement on Tuesday, the ministry said that while some major Australian universities plan to begin welcoming students back to campuses in July, the virus has not been "completely controlled" overseas.

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

China is Australia's largest education services export market, worth A$10 billion (S$9.62 billion) in 2017, and last year more than 200,000 Chinese students studied in the country.

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

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

A report released Tuesday showed that Chinese investment in Australia plunged 58.4 per cent last year to A$3.4 billion - the lowest level since 2007.

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

The Australian dollar slipped further on Tuesday on the Chinese education ministry's warning, falling 1 per cent to $0.6951.

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