China and Australia’s latest spat intensified on Thursday with China hitting back at Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s comments dismissing concerns of racist attacks in Australia.
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying called on Australia to “face up to its problems” on Thursday during the ministry’s daily address, questioning Mr Morrison’s stance on the matter.
“It is a responsible government's due obligation to safeguard the lawful rights and interests of its citizens including students. I wonder why the Australian leader takes this as ‘coercion’?” she asked.
Over the weekend, China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism warned Chinese nationals not to travel to Australia due to a spike in Sinophobia amid the coronavirus pandemic which has left visitors at risk.
That was followed by a similar call from the education ministry for students to reconsider their need to return to Australia.
There are fears this is the latest economic attack on Australia by China, with such calls damaging to the tourism and education industries which are strongly supported by Chinese nationals.
The deteriorating relationship in recent weeks has stemmed from the Morrison government’s calls for an independent investigation into the origins of COVID-19, a move scorned by the Communist Party of China and one which prompted threats from Chinese Ambassador Cheng Jingye to boycott Australian produce.
Australia ‘unwilling’ and ‘afraid’, China says
Yet Ms Hua once again reiterated China’s latest move was “based on a host of facts”, brushing off claims of an ulterior motive.
“The existing discrimination and violence in Australia has recently been widely reported by Australian media and on the Internet,” she said.
“The Chinese embassy in Australia has also received many complaints and requests for help.”
Ms Hua claimed Australia was “afraid” of the situation and warned the country to take action.
“If the Australian side is unwilling and afraid to acknowledge such plain facts, how on earth does it have so much ‘confidence’?” she said.
“We advise Australia 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.”
In the state-owned Chinese publication The Global Times, which has been at the forefront of recent Chinese criticism of Australia, warned if the “reckless” Morrison government doesn’t cooperate, Australia is likely to “pay a heavy price”.
“We sincerely hope the Australian government will learn its lesson and stop discrimination from spreading to more industries. If it does spread, the country will only bear more losses,” it wrote.
Australia could pay ‘unbearable price’ over US relationship
The publication also warned Australia about a brewing cold war between the US and China after Republican Senator Rick Scott called on democracies around the world to back the US.
“We advise Canberra not to be so reckless as to closely follow Washington, or to do whatever American politicians ask it to do,” it explained.
“If a new Cold War leads to a China-Australia showdown, Australia will pay an unbearable price.”
Given Australia's high dependence on the Chinese economy, an all-around confrontation will have a catastrophic effect on the Australian economy.”
However a robust Mr Morrison on Thursday warned Australia would not be bullied moving forward.
"One thing Australia will always do is act in our national interests and never be intimidated by threats from wherever they come," he told 3AW radio.
"We're an open trading nation, but I'm never going to trade our values in response to coercion."
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