Universities caught in crossfire as China escalates war of words

Australia’s elite universities have dismissed claims campuses are “risky” for Chinese students, saying the higher education sector has become the latest “pawn” in a diplomatic row between Australia and China.

Jun 10, 2020, updated Jun 10, 2020
Queensland has revealed a plan to return international students to the state's universities.. Photo: ABC

Queensland has revealed a plan to return international students to the state's universities.. Photo: ABC

A statement from China’s Ministry of Education yesterday warned students to reconsider studying in Australia, alleging “racist incidents” amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The warning follows a similar directive to Chinese tourists and trade strikes on Australian beef and barley.

China’s education ministry warned students of multiple incidents of discrimination targeting people of Asian descent.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann rubbished the claims of a rise in racism.

“Australia is a successful multicultural society, we are a welcoming country, and we encourage all potential students who are considering higher education in a foreign country to come to Australia,” he told reporters on Wednesday.

The warning could deal a heavy blow to Australia’s education sector, which is heavily dependent on Chinese students.

China has targeted several Australian export industries after the Morrison Government led calls for an independent inquiry into the origins of coronavirus.

Group of Eight chief executive Vicki Thomson dismissed Beijing’s claims Australia was not safe for international students.

“When we have statements such as this, which are from our perspective very disappointing and unjustified, it raises some level of concern,” Thomson said.

Just days after China urged its citizens not to travel to Australia, the Ministry of Education advised students on Tuesday to reconsider their options.

“During the period of pandemic, there are numerous discrimination cases against Asians in Australia,” the statement said.

“Please be cautious of choosing or going to study in Australia.” Thompson said the Chinese embassy in Australia could not outline the incidents the Ministry of Education was referring to.

“We have asked the Chinese embassy are there incidents that they are aware of that we need to know about because if there are we need to be working together to resolve them,” she said.

“They have been unable to provide us with that advice because they advise us there are no cases.

“So it is concerning that, yet again, international education, and particularly with China, is yet again the pawn in a political game that is not of our making.”

– additional reporting ABC

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