China warns students of ‘safety risks’ in Australia

Ministry of Education’s advice follows spike in ‘discriminatory incidents’ during pandemic

June 9, 2020
China Australia flag
Source: iStock

China has warned its citizens against studying in Australia, as relations between the two nations continue to deteriorate.

In its first “study abroad warning for 2020”, the Ministry of Education reported that there had been “many discriminatory incidents against Asians in Australia” since the onset of the pandemic.

The notice, posted on the ministry’s Chinese language website on 9 June, said major Australian universities were planning to recommence classes around July. “The Ministry of Education reminds the majority of students to do a risk assessment and choose carefully,” it said, adding that students were also endangered by the ongoing epidemic.

The Global Times newspaper, considered a propaganda mouthpiece for the Chinese Communist Party, said the warning followed a “spike in racial discrimination against Chinese people amid the Covid-19 pandemic” and that “Chinese students should assess the risks and be cautious when choosing to study or return to Australia”.

Group of Eight chief executive Vicki Thomson described the comments as “disappointing”. They emerged four days after the Chinese Ministry of Culture and Tourism warned against travel down under, citing an increase in racist attacks on Chinese and Asian people.

Federal education minister Dan Tehan said such claims contradicted the “lived reality” of Australia’s tolerant society. “We’ve seen international student numbers in this country grow over the last decade,” he told Sky News.

“People understand that this is a safe country to come to. We’ll just continue to present the case, present the facts. That’s the best way that we can offer ourselves up as an international student [and] tourism market.”

Neither warning will have any immediate effect, with borders closed during the pandemic. But universities are setting their hopes on a limited return of Chinese students to help alleviate coronavirus-induced revenue downturns that could exceed A$1 billion (£550 million) at some universities.

Some of Australia’s biggest research-intensive institutions earn more than one-quarter of their income from Chinese students’ tuition fees. Around 68,000 of the 175,000 Chinese people enrolled to study in Australia were stranded overseas in late May, according to federal education department statistics.

Australian media has interpreted the warnings as the latest display of Chinese displeasure over Australia’s call for an international inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus. China has also imposed tariffs on Australian barley and suspended beef shipments from some of Australia’s largest meat producers.

In April, China’s ambassador to Australia warned that Australia’s “political campaign against China” could spark a student boycott.

john.ross@timeshighereducation.com

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