China has issued a warning to its citizens against travelling to Australia due to a “significant increase” in racist attacks on “Chinese and Asian people”, in a move that may have long-term ramifications for Australia’s economy.
On Friday evening, the Chinese Ministry of Culture and Tourism said the rise in attacks came as a result of the coronavirus crisis.
“Due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, racial discrimination and violence against Chinese and Asian people in Australia have seen a significant increase,” the statement said.
“The Ministry of Culture and Tourism reminds Chinese tourists to enhance their safety awareness and do not travel to Australia.”
The travel warning comes after weeks of growing tensions between the two nations. China has imposed tariffs on barley and blacklisted four meat exporters, acts that were speculated to have been in retaliation to Australia’s push for an inquiry into the origins of the global pandemic.
Coronavirus-related racism now an economic issue: Tourism expert
Since the coronavirus pandemic began, there have been increased reports of race-related attacks on Australians of Asian heritage.
Community group Asian Australian Alliance received 12 reports a day of racist incidents since 2 April, The Guardian reported, while many have taken to social media to relay personal anecdotes of racist attacks.
Marianna Sigala, professor of tourism at the University of South Australia and director of UniSA’s Centre of Tourism and Leisure Management, said that the Covid-19 crisis had exacerbated levels of racism that were already there.
“Covid ... has intensified and given more fuel to such issues,” she told Yahoo Finance.
“These discrimination issues have been intensified. It’s not just in Australia, but worldwide, that people look at at Chinese people with suspicion or anger, because that’s where the virus has started, or that’s what they know.
“The coronavirus has been transformed from a biological crisis to an economic crisis.”
China is directly responsible for bringing in significant levels of income to the tourism and education sectors, Sigala added.
“They know the Chinese represent a lot of students and tourists, so this is going to hurt us. They are hitting where they can, and it makes sense.”
But Australia also had a role to play, she indicated, saying that the racist sentiment existed pre-Covid. “That’s why they are capitalising on that.”
Long-term impact on Australian economy
Will China’s travel warning be successful in dissuading Chinese travellers from coming to Australia?
For some travellers who have family and friends based in Australia – Sigala estimates about 30 per cent – it won’t. But for newcomers considering travel to Australia, it might.
In any case, in the short- and medium-term, Chinese tourists are banned from entering Australia anyway.
However, Sigala warned the economy may feel the brunt of China’s travel warning in the long-term if long-standing issues of racism go unaddressed.
“There are many factors you have to take into consideration,” she said. “It will depend on how the situation will evolve in terms of the economic crisis, when borders reopen, and geopolitical issues.”
Sigala – who is not Australian-born but has worked and lived in Australia for several years – said from what she had seen in her experience, Australia does have an issue with racism.
“This coronavirus crisis has brought to the surface several socio-economic issues we didn’t want to look at,” she said.
“As citizens we have to reflect,” she said. “We cannot afford to continue like this.”
Australia’s race discrimination commissioner, Chin Tan, said discrimination against people of Asian backgrounds should be condemned.
“Coronavirus has nothing to do with race or nationality — and neither fear of the virus, nor frustration at the difficulties we all face, are excuses for discrimination," he said, as reported in news.com.au.
“People of all backgrounds are dealing with this crisis. No group can be singled out, and we must all work collectively to defeat it.”
Growing racist attacks have ‘no basis in fact’: Tourism minister
This morning, Federal Trade and Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham rejected China’s travel warning on the grounds of growing racist attacks as having “no basis in fact”, arguing that Australia was “the most successful multicultural and migrant society in the world”.
“China is the biggest single source of international tourists to Australia,” he said in a statement.
“Millions of tourists from all corners of the world demonstrate their confidence in Australia as a safe, welcoming and amazing destination by visiting each year, often returning multiple times.
“We reject China’s assertions in this statement, which have no basis in fact. Our rejection of these claims, which have been falsely made by Chinese officials previously, is well known to them,” he said.
“Australia’s multicultural success is based on our respect for all Australians and visitors regardless of their race, religion, ethnicity or sexuality. It is our liberty as a free democratic society that enables us to embrace so many peoples while achieving a unity and inclusion that stands out in the global crowd.”