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Birmingham says China’s travel warning over racism has ‘no basis in fact’

Anyone from China who visited Australia or was in the country at the moment was “most welcome”, Mr McCormack said.

“People from China know that this is a great country to come and visit,” he said. “We want people from China, from anywhere in the world, to come and experience Australia.”

Trade and Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham slammed the Chinese government for making claims that have “no basis in fact”. He said 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 and students in Australia.

“Our rejection of these claims, which have been falsely made by Chinese officials previously, is well known to them,” Senator Birmingham said.

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 Board normally assesses foreign investment activity worth above $275 million.

Thinktank Perth USAsia Centre research director Jeffrey Wilson described the Chinese government’s directions as “ludicrous and inflammatory” but not unexpected, adding the biggest impact would likely be on the education sector.

He noted that 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 an impact on tourism.

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

“First it was [a trade fight over] 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.”

James Laurenceson, director of the University of Technology’s Australia-China Relations Institute, 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.

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“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.”

Australian Strategic Policy Institute executive director Peter Jennings suspected the timing with the FIRB changes was coincidental but said it was no doubt part of a tactic from the Chinese government to be “more aggressive and more assertive” globally.

“It really is, frankly, just propaganda. I do not see any factual basis … of an epidemic of racist behaviour,” Mr Jennings said. While he said there had been racist incidences in Australia before and during the pandemic, he said any suggestion Chinese people who visit Australia will face a new level of danger was “just nonsense”.

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