‘I’m never going to trade our values’: Australia PM on China spat

Australia under pressure from China, its largest trading partner, which has targeted education and agriculture.

Australia Chinese students
A university student at a graduation ceremony at the University of Sydney in Australia. The country's leading universities say they're a 'political pawn' in an escalating dispute between Australia and China [File: Jason Reed/Reuters]

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the government would not be intimidated or give into coercion when asked on Thursday about China’s squeeze on Australian exports.

Diplomatic tensions between China and Australia have worsened after Australia called for an international inquiry into the source and spread of the coronavirus, angering Beijing.

The World Health Assembly last month voted to support an independent review into the pandemic after lobbying by Australia and the European Union.

On Tuesday, China’s Ministry of Education said students should reconsider choosing to study in Australia, threatening Australia’s fourth-largest export industry, international education, worth 38 billion Australian dollars ($26 billion) annually.

“We are an open-trading nation, mate, but I’m never going to trade our values in response to coercion from wherever it comes,” Morrison told local radio station 2GB on Thursday.

China has, in recent weeks, banned Australian beef imports and imposed tariffs on Australian barley.

‘Ridiculous assertion’

The warning for students followed a similar warning last week from Beijing for Chinese tourists to avoid Australia.

In both cases, officials in Beijing said the warnings were due to racist attacks against Asians during the pandemic.

“That’s rubbish. It’s a ridiculous assertion, and it’s rejected. That’s not a statement that’s been made by the Chinese leadership,” Morrison said in a separate interview on 3AW.

Australia lodged a protest with the Chinese foreign ministry in Beijing, and the Chinese embassy in Canberra, about China’s travel and student warnings, said a spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

The Australian government rejected the assertion it was unsafe to visit or study in Australia, a statement said.

“Australia provides the best education and tourism products in the world,” Morrison told 2GB. “The ability for Chinese nationals to be able to choose to come to Australia (has) substantively been their decision. And I’m very confident in the attractiveness of our product.”

The coalition representing Australia’s elite universities, the G8, has said international education was “being used as a political pawn”.

China is Australia’s largest trading partner, with two-way trade worth 235 billion Australian dollars ($163 billion) a year.

Source: Reuters