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Optimism on Chinese student numbers as tweet row rages on

The International Education Association of Australia said it is not detecting any signs that young Chinese people, who form the backbone of Australia’s $35 billion international student market, were being deterred by the present troubles.

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But the data from the Department of Home Affairs also shows the Chinese are the only cohort of student visa holders where the majority – 53 per cent – are outside Australia amid pandemic-induced border closures and travel bans.

Phil Honeywood, chief executive of the association, said on Wednesday that the latest visa figures were cause for optimism about the Chinese market.

“We’re optimistic that the long-established people-to-people and university-to university links will maintain a good market share for Australia,” he said.

“With the recent return of international students to Darwin this week, a number of those students were from mainland China and there is no indication of any official ban or restriction from their end.”

As the federal government in Canberra moved closer on Wednesday evening to passing legislation that would potentially give it the power to rip up Mr Andrews’ deal with China next year, the Premier called for a reset of the relationship between the two countries.

Mr Andrews said he and Prime Minister Scott Morrison had discussed on Tuesday the fabricated picture – depicting an Australian soldier with a knife to the throat of an Afghan child – which sparked the controversy.

“That [image] was just beyond the pale. It’s wrong. I condemn it,” Mr Andrews said on Wednesday morning.

But asked if he was reconsidering Belt and Road in the light of its publication on Twitter and China’s aggressive escalation in rhetoric since, Mr Andrews had a one-word answer: “No”.

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The Premier said both he and Mr Morrison hoped the countries’ relationship could be healed soon and Mr Andrews repeated his wish that China tone down its “inflammatory language” and work on improving bilateral ties as soon as possible.

“This relationship is far too important to farmers, to manufacturers, to workers, to profits for Victorian companies and therefore prosperity for our state,” Mr Andrews said.

“This is not just our biggest customer, but it is all about jobs. We need a good relationship but it has to be a fair and respectful one.”

Mr Andrews said China had led the way in causing the relationship to deteriorate this week.

“That’s no way to run a productive partnership and I’d simply say that the time has come, surely now, for everyone to take a breath, to sit down and to work through the issues,”

George Dajczer, sales manager of Andrew Peace winery near Swan Hill in Victoria’s north west told The Age of the impact on his business of China’s latest trade hit – tariffs of up to 212 per cent on Australian wine imports – with a shipment worth $60,000 sitting on the tarmac at a Chinese airport for the past three weeks.

He said it was still unclear whether the new tariff announced by the Chinese government last week would be applied to his shipment – and if it is applied, he doubts the bottles, worth about $60,000, will sell in China.

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“It’s confusing and frustrating,” Mr Dajczer said.

“We’ve established relationships for 15 years with our main agent in China, even he’s uncertain of what’s going to come of our wine and the broader situation.”

State Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien said the Premier’s refusal to abandon the Belt and Road deal was “arrogant” and the the Liberal-National Coalition would tear up the agreement if it was elected in 2022.

“Andrews’ dodgy Belt and Road deal with the Chinese Communist Party has given Chinese multinational companies a leg-up into projects in Victoria yet delivered nothing in return,” the Liberal leader said.

“Andrews has put all Victoria’s eggs in the one trade basket with China which has left us exposed.”

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