Federal Education Minister Alan Tudge has accused Beijing of spreading “disinformation” after it warned students against studying in Australia.
China’s Ministry of Education reportedly told students on Friday to make a “full risk assessment” about going to Australia following reports of racism, anti-Chinese attacks and concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.
But Mr Tudge hit back at the claims saying Australia was one of the safest and most welcoming destinations for international students.
“I reject China’s assertions it is unsafe to visit or study in Australia – this is disinformation,” he said.
“Australia holds itself to a far higher standard than most other nations – we don‘t tolerate racism, and we certainly don’t tolerate violence.”
It is the second time in eight months that authorities have told students to carefully consider going to Australia to study due to racism – a move that could worsen the already strained trading relationship.
Chinese state-owned media reported that a “series of vicious attacks on Chinese students” had occurred in Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra on three consecutive days in January.
The Global Times wrote that the incidents posed a “serious threat” to the personal safety of Chinese students, while the coronavirus pandemic made international travel risky.
Group of Eight chief executive Vicki Thomson said it was disappointing to see reports suggesting Australia was an unsafe study destination.
“We will certainly seek advice, as we have in the past, from the Chinese Ministry of Education and the Embassy on suggestions that students have been subject to racial attacks,” Ms Thomson said.
“These simply would not be tolerated for any of our students. Our universities remain safe spaces for all of our students.”
She said the Group of Eight universities – which includes Melbourne University – was committed to their Chinese students and acknowledged “how hard” it was for them to remain off-shore and study online.
Australian universities rely heavily on the Chinese, who make up the largest cohort of international students.
However, the burgeoning number of Australian citizens wanting to return from overseas and restricted quarantine capacity has thrown a spanner in the works of returning planeloads of international students to campuses nationwide.
Mr Tudge said he remained confident that Australia would remain an attractive destination for international students of all nationalities, given the nation’s successful handling of the pandemic.
However, the UK and Canada have been raised as alternatives for Chinese students wanting to study overseas.
The Global Times reported that the education department warning was evidence that Australia had “poisoned” the relationship with China.
Shanghai-based Australian scholar Chen Hong – who had his visa cancelled by Australian officials after an intelligence investigation – said the “worsening discrimination problem” that Chinese students face in Australia had reached “an alarmingly high degree”.
“The Australian government’s continuous attacks against China, which have been echoed by the media especially after the COVID-19 pandemic, has misguided the local Australian people to generate hostility toward the Chinese,” he said.
The Scanlon social cohesion study released this week found there was a “relatively high level” of negative opinion towards Asian Australians in 2020.
Three in five Chinese Australians responded that racism in Australia during the COVID-19 pandemic was a ‘very big’ or ‘fairly big problem’.