BEIJING: Beijing warned on Monday (Jun 8) there has been “a lot of discrimination” against Chinese people in Australia, escalating a diplomatic row just days after telling its citizens not to travel there.
Tensions between Australia and China have been mounting on a number of fronts, and Beijing reacted with fury to recent calls for an independent investigation into the origins and spread of the COVID-19 pandemic after it first emerged in central China late last year.
China stepped up the war of words again last week by telling its citizens to avoid the country altogether over safety concerns.
“Recently, there has been a lot of discrimination against Chinese and Asian people in Australia,” said foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying at a regular press briefing on Monday.
“Many Chinese in Australia have been insulted or even injured … (and) graffiti or words with racist connotations against Chinese have appeared in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and other Australian cities.”
On Friday, China’s culture and tourism ministry had advised against travel to Australia due to increasing racism linked to the coronavirus.
Since Australian borders are closed to all non-essential inbound and outbound travellers because of the pandemic – with no date set for them to reopen – the advice from Beijing is largely symbolic.
Australian Trade Minister Simon Birmingham told the ABC’s Radio National on Monday that there had been racist incidents.
“But I think the idea that Australia, in any way, is an unsafe destination for visitors to come to is one that just does not stand up to scrutiny,” he said.
The anti-discrimination commission in New South Wales (NSW) – Australia’s most populous state – said last week that there had been an increase in enquiries related to the pandemic and racism against people of Asian backgrounds.
The group said instances included people being bullied for wearing a face mask, spat at and harassed in public on their way to work, while they exercised or at the supermarket.
Anti-Discrimination NSW said it had also heard from people who have experienced violent race-related acts like their car window being smashed and racist language written across cars and private property.
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The relationship between Beijing and Canberra has become increasingly troubled as China has become more assertive in flexing its growing military, economic and diplomatic power in the Asia-Pacific region.
In response to calls for an independent inquiry into the origins of the pandemic, the Chinese ambassador in Canberra had threatened a widespread consumer boycott of Australian products – a warning followed up by a bar on imports from four major Australian beef producers.
And then in May, China imposed an 80 per cent tariff on Australian barley over dumping allegations, a move set to cost at least A$500 million (US$350 million) a year, according to five of the nation’s grain growers.
An editorial published by the nationalist Chinese state-run Global Times warned the travel alert “may just be the tip of the iceberg”.
“If Australia wants to retain the gain from its economic ties with China,” it said, “it must make a real change to its current stance on China, or it will completely lose the benefits of Chinese consumers.”