Chinese students say Aussie travel warnings ‘have gone too far’

Chinese international students have defended Australia as a “safe” destination for study, despite a travel warning issued by the Chinese Government urging students to reconsider.

Jun 11, 2020, updated Jun 11, 2020
The Federal Government is under pressure to give international students a better deal. (AAP photo)

The Federal Government is under pressure to give international students a better deal. (AAP photo)

In a statement published on Tuesday, China’s Ministry of Education cited both the risk of COVID-19 and “racist incidents targeting Asians” in Australia.

Anti-discrimination groups have reported a rise in anti-Asian racism during the pandemic, and media outlets, including the ABC, have covered cases where people of Asian appearance were targeted due to the coronavirus.

Chinese international student Mr Zheng, who did not want his first name used, told the ABC that Chinese people in Australia — including international students and Chinese-Australians — were having a hard time as the diplomatic tension between China and Australia escalated.

The 28-year-old, who is studying a Masters degree in biomedicine at the University of Adelaide, said he felt safe in Australia over the last four years, and felt the warning was more of a Canberra-Beijing spat than a genuine concern for the safety of millions of students in China.

“The first warning [over the weekend] for travellers was not even necessary, and this one for students has gone too far,” Mr Zheng said.

“It’s not even truly protecting its citizens, but a political debate in the guise of addressing racism.”

Coalition ministers have dismissed the Chinese Government’s warnings about racism in Australia.

Infrastructure and Population Minister Alan Tudge said while there had been some highly publicised attacks on Asian-Australians, the country remained very safe for international students.

“I think there have been many high-profile instances of racism against people of Asian background. But I think those instances are the actions of a tiny minority of cowardly idiots,” he told Sky News.

“The vast majority of Australians would be appalled by those actions and call it out — just as I have and the Prime Minister has.”

Trade, Tourism and Investment Minister Simon Birmingham said it would be a loss to both countries.

“We would feel the effect — our universities would, if we saw a downturn in international student numbers. That would be, not only an economic effect, but also impact the diversity of learning that occurs on those campuses and the different perspectives that brings,” he told 2GB.

International education contributed $37.6 billion to the Australian economy in the last financial year, according to Government figures.

“It would also be a loss to those Chinese students who would lose out on getting a high-quality English language education in one of the safest countries on Earth,” Birmingham said.

“And for the long term, it would do nothing to help further the mutual understanding between our two nations as well.”

Mr Zheng said he believed students in China should continue to be entitled to choose their destination to study abroad, and told the ABC that he still recommended Australia as a good place for interested Chinese students.

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“I hope Chinese students who had an intention to study overseas would make their decisions based on their own career and life-planning,” he said.

“I hope they won’t prioritise the authorities’ warning for where they are going.”

One of Mr Zheng’s friends, 28-year-old Chinese student Primo Pan, who is currently studying a PhD in the University of Adelaide, told the ABC the warning was “over the top”, even though he had been subject to racism a few times during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There was an increase in racism targeting Chinese people in Australia, but it’s still a safe place where your personal security is not threatened,” Mr Pan said.

“Ordinary Chinese people are caught up in the crossfire between Australia and China.”

The warning — which came on the heels of barley tariffs and Australia pushing for an investigation into COVID-19 — has caused a stir on social media and community media sites, with some criticising Beijing’s move as being blatantly politically motivated.

But Dr He-Ling Shi, an associate professor in economics at Monash University, told the ABC Beijing’s allegation was unfair.

“I don’t believe this allegation has any sort of solid ground. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, Australian universities have taken various measures and tried to help overseas students … and also facilitated their studies in Australia,” he said.

-ABC/ Bang Xiao and Samuel Yang


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