The Prime Minister is staring down Chinese economic attacks on some of Australia’s most important export industries, declaring Australia will not surrender its values in response to “coercion”.
Chinese authorities have told tourists and students to reconsider travelling to Australia, warning of a rise in “racist incidents” amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The federal government has been left scrambling to respond to the multi-billion-dollar threat to the international education sector.
Mr Morrison told Sydney radio station 2GB it would be up to Chinese students to decide whether they want to come to Australia.
He said it was “rubbish” that Australia had been racist to Chinese students and questioned the multi-pronged trade attacks.
“Australia provides the best tourism and education products in the world and I know that is compelling,” he said.
“We are an open-trade nation but I am never going to trade our values in response to coercion from wherever it comes.”
“One thing Australia will always do is act in our national interest and never be intimidated by threats.”
Australian universities have rejected accusations campuses are unsafe, and Chinese students have echoed those calls.
Tensions between Canberra and Beijing have continued to escalate over the Australian government’s push for an international inquiry into the coronavirus pandemic.
In April, Foreign Minister Marise Payne accused China of “economic coercion” after warnings of a consumer backlash against key Australian goods and services.
Trade Minister Simon Birmingham has repeatedly tried to talk to his Chinese counterpart, but the requests have been met with stony silence.
When asked this week if he had secured a meeting — four weeks after the initial request — the answer was still no.
“We have done nothing to offend that relationship, nothing at all,” Mr Morrison told 3AW radio.
“We’re an open trading nation, but I’m never going to trade our values in response to coercion.”
Australian exports to China were worth $16.8 billion last year, doubling from 2014.
China last month slapped a whopping 80 per cent tariff on barley imports, effectively banning Australian crops.
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade officials met industry leaders on Thursday to discuss expanding into alternative markets.
Catherine Ross from DFAT’s China Economic and Engagement Branch said officials had advised the agriculture sector to maintain composure.
“It’s really important that we have to stay calm and disciplined in our public statements,” she told a Parliamentary inquiry.
“Otherwise, quite frankly, we’re playing into China’s hands on these matters. But we are very cleared eyed about what’s going on.”