‘No basis in fact’: Australian Tourism Minister slams China’s travel warning

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Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment Simon Birmingham.CREDIT:ALEX ELLINGHAUSEN

Trade and Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham has slammed the Chinese government for instructing citizens not to visit Australia due to increasing racism as “having no basis in fact”.

China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism on Saturday morning advised the public not to travel to Australia due to “an alarming increase” in racial discrimination and violence towards Chinese people in relation to the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Birmingham has rejected these comments outright, saying Australia was “the most successful multicultural and migrant society in the world”.

“The Chinese Australian community is a significant and valued contributor to that success story,” he said. China is the biggest single source of international tourists to Australia.

“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.

In May, Mr Birmingham said his phone calls to his trade counterpart in China were not being answered amid an escalating dispute between Australia and China over beef and barley exports.

The Chinese government’s advice to citizens not to travel to Australia was issued shortly after Prime Minister Scott Morrison revealed a planned overhaul of foreign investment rules with the Foreign Investment Review Board to be given the power to approve all investments in sensitive industries regardless of size. The FIRB currently assesses foreign investment activity worth above $275 million.

Mr Morrison intends to have the system up and running by 2021 to mitigate against “increasing risks to the national interest” but has said he did not want to inflame tensions with China.

University of Technology Sydney director of the Australia-China Relations Institute Professor James Laurenceson said the comments were “pretty standard Beijing practice” and had the hallmarks of retaliation.

“They are a response to the political disagreement, cloaked in plausible deniability as there has been an uptick in racism in Australia,” Professor Laurenceson said.

“There is a question mark over whether Beijing is shooting a warning shot or trying [to inflict] economic harm as there are no tourists here at the moment,” he said, adding it was most likely a way for the Chinese government to show displeasure.

Mr Birmingham said Australia had “world leading success” in suppressing the spread of COVID-19, which had originated in Wuhan in China, and was looking forward to having visitors back when the health advice allowed the lifting of border restrictions.

“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,” he said.

He said closing the borders with China was “unfortunate” but was a move to protect Australia from the spread of the pandemic from Wuhan.

“This decision was criticised by the Chinese Government at the time, but it proved to be a critical decision in keeping Australians safe from the devastation faced by much of the rest of the world,” he said.

“Australians returning from China did an amazing job through self isolation to protect Australia at that critical time, as many more have since.”

Australian Tourism Industry Council chief executive Simon Westaway declined to comment directly on the Chinese government’s instructions to citizens but said the organisation “welcome a future return of international visitors” as the local industry recovers.

Perth USAsia Centre research director Jeffrey Wilson described the Chinese government’s directions as “ludicrous and inflammatory” but not unexpected.

Cheng Jingye, the Chinese ambassador to Australia, expressed frustration in April about the federal government’s push for an inquiry into the outbreak of COVID-19, and warned there could be a travel ban.

“The ambassador [talked about this] six weeks ago and now it has come true,” Dr Wilson said.

“First it was barley, then beef, now tourism and students… it’s part of long-running trade sanctions,” he said.

“The longest shadow of this will be over the education market… it sends a message in terms of stoking fear and concern about what conditions are like in Australia.”

By Jennifer Duke
The Sydney Morning Herald

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