CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — International students are expected to begin returning to Australia next month despite Chinese warnings of pandemic-related racism, the Australian prime minister said on Friday.
International students would be allowed to come to Australia under approved plans to study at nominated institutions, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said after a pandemic meeting with state leaders.
International students have been Australia’s most lucrative industry after mining, with China the largest source of foreign students. They stand to become among the first classes of passenger to exempted from an Australian ban on travel from China that has existed since Feb. 1.
The students would return to Australian universities “in a very controlled setting,” Morrison said. He gave few details, but said “well thought-through proposals” had been forwarded by state government on how their return could be achieved.
“This is something that I’m sure we would all welcome happening again, but it has to be done with the appropriate quarantine entry arrangements and biosecurity and all of those matters being addressed,” Morrison said.
Morrison said he expected all state borders to reopen in July, with the possible exception of Western Australia.
China has warned its citizens of the risk of pandemic-related racism if they traveled to Australia. This follows China banning beef imports from Australia’s largest abattoirs and ending the trade in Australian barley through massive tariffs in what is widely regarded as retaliation for Australia calling for an investigation into the pandemic.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne on Friday accused China of “disinformation” through its racism warning.
Morrison said he was not concerned that Chinese government warnings could deter Chinese students from coming to Australia.
“When it comes to our record of multiculturalism, of freedom of religion, of liberty, treating everybody equally — I’m happy to stack Australia’s record up all around the world,” Morrison said.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters in Beijing this week that China’s warnings to Chinese students and tourists over “racist incidents” targeting Asians in Australia were “based on a host of facts.”
She advised Australia to “face up to its problems, do some soul-searching and take concrete measures to protect the safety, rights and interests of Chinese nationals in Australia.”
The travel warning came after Chinese Chinese Ambassador Cheng Jingye’s told Australian media in April that the country might face a Chinese boycott of its tourism and exports of wine, beef and other goods if the government pressed for a coronavirus inquiry.
The Australian Human Rights Commission reported a spike in the overall number of complaints of breaches of the Racial Discrimination Act in February. But police say racism offenses are often underreported or data is not collected.
Universities Australia chief executive Catriona Jackson, a spokeswoman for the sector, welcomed the prime minister’s announcement.
“The return of students will be crucial to reactivating businesses and creating jobs across the country,” she said in a statement.
Smaller Australian states have closed their borders mainly to stem the virus spread from the worst-affected states, New South Wales and Victoria. The state capitals, Sydney and Melbourne respectively, are Australia’s most populous cities.
Morrison said states could not bring back international students if they did not open their borders.
“I made clear to the states and territories today: if someone can’t come to your state from Sydney, then someone can’t come to your state from Singapore,” Morrison said.
Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said Victoria was alone among Australia’s eight states and territories to experience community spread of COVID-19 in recent weeks.
Australia has not recorded a COVID-19 death since May 23 when the toll rose to 102. The country has recorded 7,285 coronavirus cases and 524 cases remain active.