Chinese student bashing threatens Australia's image

Beijing: An attack on Chinese school students in Canberra that saw one hospitalised could be a turning point in Chinese attitudes towards Australia, a major newspaper has editorialised.

Two local teenagers have faced Children's Court after the bashing at the Woden bus interchange last week, which has been widely reported by Chinese newspapers, radio and state media.

Lowy Institute director of East Asia programs Merriden Varrall said the incident "could certainly affect decision making" by safety conscious Chinese students considering studying in Australia.

A Chinese student who attended the same school as the victims told a Beijing newspaper that students are scared, because the day after the attack, they had been sworn at and pushed into a Chinese restaurant by a group of 20 to 30 Australian youths.

Global Times, a mass-circulating national newspaper focused on foreign policy, said the incident would prompt many Chinese people to feel Australia isn't safe.

"If Australia does not take strong measures to eliminate the impact of this matter, this incident and the series of recent negative events and comments against Chinese in Australia will constitute a turning point, reshaping Chinese people's foundation for understanding Australian society," the Global Times wrote in an editorial on Monday.

The newspaper said "tough" talk on China by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, anti-Chinese posters at Australian universities, and "backstreet hooligans cursing 'go back to China' and beating our children" undermined Canberra's message that Australia is friendly to China.

In a warning of a potential impact to Australia's $21.8 billion international education market, the Global Times said Australia was not the only place that Chinese students could gain an education.

Another newspaper, Beijing Youth Daily interviewed Chinese student "Li Li", a friend of the two students injured, who said they were attacked after being asked for cigarettes - which they didn't have - by local youths.

The Chinese students did not fight back because their parents would be upset, and they were scared of being deported, he said.

"If we return now, we don't have any diploma."

Li Li said the Chinese school students were saddened by the names they are called in Australia.

"Some people say we are 'stupid and rich', 'foreign worshippers', and deserve to be beaten. In fact, many of our students are from ordinary families. The money is earned by our parents, one penny after another, and tuition fees are paid by 'biting teeth'," he told Beijing Youth Daily.

Li Li said he was fearful and ran away when he saw a young person in Canberra who was not in school uniform.

ACT Policing said it had stepped up patrols and "engaged with the Chinese community".

Ms Varrall, who has previously taught in Chinese universities, said the Global Times editorial reflected that, "there is a changing view in China about the attitude to Australia".

She said the recent controversy in Australia over Chinese university students had been noticed.

Chinese students consider the safety of the country they are going to when weighing up where to study overseas, and had previously considered Australia safer than Europe.

ACT education minister Yvette Barry said it was an "isolated incident - the ACT community welcomes international students".

Linda Jakobson, the chief executive of think tank China Matters, said: "The Global Times attempts to connect dots that aren't necessarily to be connected.

"An isolated incident of violence doesn't necessarily have anything to do with the challenges and problems on Australian university campuses."

But she said if there were more incidents it would be cause for concern.

Australian Chinese online media reported that a WeChat group has been established to offer help to Chinese students who need transport around Canberra and want to avoid public transport.

This story Chinese student bashing threatens Australia's image first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.