Australia warned Thursday it would not be intimidated by attempts at economic “coercion” after China threatened to undermine the multi-billion dollar flow of Chinese tourists and students to the country.
Beijing has issued warnings in recent days that Chinese should avoid Australia due to concerns about racist incidents targeting ethnic Asians during the coronavirus pandemic.
The comments were the latest salvo in a long-brewing diplomatic dispute between Australia and its largest trading partner.
The Morrison government has formally protested to Beijing over its claims Australia is too dangerous for its tourists and students, as Chinese nationals already here downplayed allegations of racism. #auspol https://t.co/yviTXs8kU5— The Australian (@australian) June 10, 2020
Prime Minister Scott Morrison dismissed on Thursday allegations of racist treatment of Chinese as “rubbish”.
Australia not intimidated by China: assertions are ‘rubbish’
“It’s a ridiculous assertion and it’s rejected,” he said during a radio interview.
“We have an important trading relationship with China and I’d like to see that continue,” Morrison said.
But he warned his government would “never be intimidated by threats” or “trade our values in response to coercion from wherever it comes”.
During the pandemic racism toward Asians has reportedly increased, according to the New South Wales anti-discrimination commission.
Tensions between two giants at breaking point
Tensions have grown steadily in recent years between the two governments as Australia has moved to counter Chinese moves to build its influence both domestically and across the Pacific region.
More recently Canberra angered Beijing by leading calls for an international probe into the origin and handling of the coronavirus pandemic in central China.
China has since taken several steps targeting trade with Australia, including the attempts to discourage Chinese travellers, who represent the biggest groups of foreign tourists, and overseas students.
The effect of Beijing’s travel advice will only be known once Australia’s borders — closed to all non-essential inbound and outbound travellers due to the pandemic — reopen.
Education is Australia’s fourth-largest export with more than 500,000 international students enrolled last year, bringing about Aus$37 billion into the economy.
After Canberra’s support for a virus inquiry, China’s ambassador in Canberra threatened a widespread consumer boycott of Australian products — a warning followed up by a bar on four major Australian beef exporters.
That was followed in May by an 80-percent tariff on Australian barley over dumping allegations, a move grain growers say will cost at least Aus$500 million (US$350 million) a year.
Australia’s slowly unravelling relations with China
Tensions between Beijing and Canberra have spiked in recent months over Australia’s decision to exclude Chinese telecom giant Huawei from the rollout of the country’s 5G network, disputes over the South China Sea, Beijing’s interference in Australian politics and businesses, and Australia’s harboring of a self-described former Chinese spy.
China claims the proposed COVID-19 inquiry is a political witch-hunt orchestrated by Washington and backed by Canberra, with the aim of isolating and humiliating Beijing.
Downer, the former Australian foreign minister, dismissed Beijing’s comments, telling the ABC that there must be an impartial investigation into the cause of the outbreak.
“The global economy has been brought to a halt; 200,000 people are dead as a result of it,” he said. “We’ve got to investigate it. I’m very surprised that the Chinese should be so resistant to getting to the heart of what happened.”
The Chinese embassy in Canberra released a statement that said Cheng was dismissive of Australia’s concerns.
“Ambassador Cheng flatly rejected the concerns expressed from the Australian side over his remarks during the recent interview, and called on Australia to put aside ideological bias, stop political games and do more to promote bilateral relations,” the spokesperson said.
Earlier, China also threatened a consumer boycott of Australian goods because of alleged racism faced by its citizens in Australia.
AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk