Australia’s finance minister urged students from all over the world to “consider Australia” and tells CNBC that the country remains “friendly” and “multicultural” as it struggles with the latest turn in rising tensions with China.
Beijing this week announced to its students a warning to “be careful” in choosing Australia as a destination for foreign education. China’s Ministry of Education claimed increased discrimination against Asians following the coronavirus pandemic, which was first reported in the Chinese city of Wuhan. Relations between the two countries have deteriorated since Australia demanded a global investigation into the origin of the coronavirus in China, which made Beijing angry.
Asked how worried Australia was about China̵
By 2019, there were over 750,000 international students in Australia, according to government data. Students from China account for most of the applications for higher education. Fees from Chinese university students are worth about $ 12 billion in Australian dollars ($ 8 billion) per year, according to Reuters.
During the interview, Cormann trumpeted Australia as a “friendly” and “multicultural” society. “International students are a very important export market for us … Australia is an incredibly friendly and welcoming destination for international students. We are one of, if not the most successful, multicultural society anywhere in the world.”
He added that he is “confident that” all international students “would have a good experience” in the country.
A student walks past buildings at the University of Sydney in Sydney, Australia, Tuesday, February 25, 2020.
Brent Lewin | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Tensions between China and Australia have also flared on other fronts. Beijing canceled some beef imports from Australia and hit Australian barley with huge duties. It also advised citizens to stop traveling to Australia and again cite racial discrimination.
China is Australia’s largest trading partner and buys a third of everything Australia exports, including agricultural and other raw materials such as iron ore and wine.
When asked whether Australia can afford not to have good economic ties with China, Cormann told CNBC: “Sometimes there will be disagreements or specific issues in a mutually beneficial relationship, and our view is that the issues should be worked through constructively and positively.”
He continued: “It’s a very important trade relationship, and we also have a strategic partnership … and we want that relationship to be in the best possible shape. But when there are issues where Australia’s national interest is at stake, we will stand up for our national interest. “