China has warned students not to travel to Australia as relations between the two nations deteriorate further.
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 rejected claims of a rise in racist attacks.
“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 said on Wednesday.
Acting Multicultural Affairs Minister Alan Tudge acknowledged there were some instances of racism against people of Asian descent, but said they were the actions of “a tiny minority of cowardly idiots.”
“It’s not the Australian way and I don’t think it is by any stretch of the imagination the Australian norm,” he told Sky News.
Beijing’s warning could deal a heavy blow to Australia’s education sector, which is heavily dependent on Chinese students.
Vicki Thomson from the Group of Eight universities described the Chinese statement as disappointing.
“Our duty of care extends to all of our students, domestic and international, and never more so at this time whilst we are in the middle of a global pandemic,” she said.
“Australia and our universities remain safe destinations for all of our students.
“The Go8 is absolutely committed to our international students and to maintaining a positive and collaborative relationship with China, but statements such as this do make things more difficult at an already difficult time.”
Thomson encouraged students to do their own research.
“We look forward to being able to welcome them back to our campuses as soon as the Australian government’s health advice indicates that we can,” she said.
University chiefs have reportedly spoken to the Chinese embassy and been told there are no concerns about racist attacks against Asian students.
China has targeted several Australian export industries after the Morrison government led calls for an independent inquiry into the origins of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) virus, commonly known as the novel coronavirus.
Trade Minister Simon Birmingham is trying desperately to calm the diplomatic tensions but has been ignored by his Chinese counterpart for more than a month.
“Australia and China won’t agree on everything and we don’t agree on everything, but we want and have a constructive partnership,” he told 2GB radio.
By Daniel McCulloch