The Chinese ambassador to Canberra has hinted that a return of China’s international student and tourism market was unlikely once international border closures reopened.
In an hour-long video address to the Australia China Business Council on Thursday, Cheng Jingye claimed there was an increase in “racial discrimination” against Chinese residing in the country.
“It could create obstacles for Chinese travellers to return. It makes people wonder whether this country would still welcome Chinese tourists to come here,” he said.
“My fear is whether Chinese travellers are as welcome as they used to be, about whether there is a friendly, favourable environment which is conducive to their return.”
The ambassador also denied claims that the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) recent actions were belligerent.
“China has never launched any provocations. As a matter of fact, it is the Australian side that is changing its perceptions about China,” he said.
The Chinese tourist market accounted for $12.4 billion of the $45.4 billion international traveller market to Australia in 2020.
While in 2019, there were over 127,000 Chinese students studying in Australia, 38 percent of the total cohort of 335,000. That number has remained relatively steady despite the onset of COVID-19. Education services are Australia’s fourth-largest export.
Michael Shoebridge, defence director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said the “real message” for Australian businesses and university leaders was that doing business with China—while the CCP was in control—was risky. He emphasized that the need for diversification was critical.
“Beijing could have banked on university leaders pressuring the Australian government previously to do whatever it took to keep the flow of Chinese students into Australian universities. Tourism sector leaders would have thought similarly,” he told The Epoch Times.
“Now, it’s impossible to argue that the risks to Australia’s education and tourist sectors of a large dependence on the China market is low,” he added.
“That means Australian tourism and higher education business plans need to look at the 6.4 billion people on the planet who don’t live in mainland China, not the 1.4 billion who do.”
The ambassador’s comments echo those delivered in April last year, warning the Australian government against calling for an investigation into the origins of COVID-19.
More recently, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian called comments by the Home Affairs Secretary Mike Pezzullo “extremely irresponsible.”
“Some individual politicians in Australia, out of their selfish interests, are keen to make statements that incite confrontation and hype up the threat of war,” Zhao said. “These people are the real troublemakers.”
Pezzullo was warning Home Affairs staff of the need for Australia to be armed and prepared as the “drums of war” were beating in the region.