Australia says China travel warning 'unhelpful' amid escalating diplomatic row

Tuesday, 9 June 2020

News report by Max Walden, ABC News. Read the original article on ABC News HERE

Trade and Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham has labelled China's warning against its citizens visiting Australia "unhelpful", as Chinese state media said the warning was issued in response to Australia's "anti-China" policies.

Senator Birmingham told RN on Monday that he accepted Asian-Australians had faced incidents of racism since the COVID-19 pandemic began, but rejected the idea that Australia was unsafe for foreign tourists.

On Saturday, the Chinese Ministry of Culture and Tourism issued an alert warning against travel to Australia, citing a "significant increase" in racist attacks on "Chinese and Asian people".

"Australia's a country where our leaders and our communities condemn racism and where we have very clear processes in place if violent attacks occur for people to report them," Senator Birmingham said.

"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."

Australia accused of 'anti-China' strategy

An editorial published by the Global Times, a Communist Party mouthpiece, warned the travel ban "may just be the tip of the iceberg".

"If Australia wants to retain the gain from its economic ties with China, it must make a real change to its current stance on China, or it will completely lose the benefits of Chinese consumers," it wrote.

"The tourism loss may be just a tip of iceberg in its loss of Chinese interest."

Another article attributed the travel warning to "Australian animosity" and "rocky bilateral ties", quoting analysts as saying that the official warning was "reasonable" given "abundant evidence" of racist acts.

"Australia should have considered the costs when introducing anti-China policies earlier," it said.

"Australia has become a close collaborator of the US in its anti-China strategy at the expense of China-Australia relations," the Global Times paraphrased Chen Hong, director of the Australian Studies Centre at East China Normal University in Shanghai, as saying.

It cited "smearing China over the COVID-19 pandemic" and other "unwelcoming moves" including excluding Chinese company Huawei from constructing Australia's 5G network and restricting Chinese investment in Australia.

Delia Lin, a senior lecturer from the Asia Institute at the University of Melbourne, told the ABC the travel warning was "not about genuine concern over racist attacks or genuine concern over the safety of Chinese citizens".

"If you look at it from a practical perspective, this travel warning is pretty meaningless because nobody can really travel at the moment," she said.

"It's intended to damage the image of Australia."

Beijing's announcement of the travel warning came after China imposed high tariffs on Australian barley last month and banned imports from four abattoirs representing 35 per cent of Australia's Chinese beef exports, decisions widely seen to be consequences of Canberra's deteriorating relations with Beijing.

China criticised the Morrison Government's call for an independent inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, and has previously taken issue with Australia's criticism of Beijing over human rights issues including the mass detention of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang.

Jane Golley, director of the Australian Centre on China in the World at The Australian National University, said that Australia's relations with China had been deteriorating since at least 2017.

"I think we've started treating them as an adversary in general, while still trying to maintain that they're an important trading and investment partner for us," she told the ABC.

"And they're offended by our treatment of them."

Federal Government defends Australian multiculturalism

Asked by RN whether he believed China was attempting to do diplomatic damage to Australia with the travel warning, Senator Birmingham said it was unclear.

"It's difficult for me to try to ascribe motivations to other countries; this is an unhelpful statement, no doubt about that," he said.

Chinese nationals represent the largest inbound market for visitor arrivals, with some 1.4 million Chinese short-term visitors arriving in Australia in 2019.

"This is a bullying tactic," said Dr Lin of the Asia Institute. "China doesn't see it as bullying, they say it as a way of showing strength."

Senator Birmingham says Australia's embrace of multiculturalism stood out in the world.

"That's what frustrates me and disappoints me in relation to China's statement," he said.

"In relative terms, there is no doubt Australia is one of the most inclusive countries, one of the most tolerant countries."

Mr Birmingham has tried to speak about ongoing diplomatic tensions with his Chinese counterpart over recent weeks, but he said he was yet to hear back from Commerce Minister Zhong Shan.

Mr Zhong has defended the 80 per cent tariff on Australian barley as "cautious and restrained", blaming Australia for the trade tensions.

China has "become very adept at using economic tools to send geopolitical messages," Professor Golley said.

'Convenient' criticism of Australia amid reports of racism
Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack earlier rejected the suggestion there had been an increase in racist attacks in Australia.

"There hasn't been a wave of outbreaks of violence against Chinese people," he said.

"I don't know why this has been stated, I don't know what was in the thinking of the organisation or the person who made the statement, all I can say is the statement is not true," he said.

However, there have been numerous reports of people of Asian appearance experiencing racist incidents across Australia amid the pandemic.

In March, a Hong Kong student studying in Hobart was punched in the face for wearing a medical face mask at a local supermarket.

In April, two Melbourne University students were allegedly verbally abused and physically assaulted after a pair of women screamed "coronavirus" at them and told them to get out of the country.

And in the same month, Queensland police said there had been 22 racially motivated offences against Asian Australians in the state, including wilful damage, public nuisance, robberies and assaults.

In March, a Bundaberg teenager was charged for assaulting a 27-year-old South Korean backpacker and accusing her of bringing the coronavirus to Australia.

The 15-year-old was charged with assault occasioning bodily harm while armed, assault occasioning bodily harm, common assault and stealing. The matter has been finalised.

Asian migrants have also reported being evicted for fears of spreading coronavirus, and high-profile acts of vandalism including racist attacks on a Chinese-Australian family's home happening three times in one week in April.

"Do I think [China is] genuinely concerned about the health and welfare of their citizens? Absolutely," Professor Golley said.

"We've seen that through COVID-19, with their embassy focusing mainly on the health and wellbeing of their own citizens.

"But it is convenient for them that they can then harness this to send a political message."

Some members of Australia's Chinese diaspora have told the ABC that Beijing's travel warning may end up doing more harm than good.

During the coronavirus pandemic, foreigners in China have also reported a spike in xenophobia.

A number of African Governments recently expressed concern over discriminatory treatment of African expatriates living in China, including having their passports seized, and forced quarantining and evictions.

Updated:  6 October 2016/Responsible Officer:  Director/Page Contact:  CAP Web Team