According to the latest from the statistics tracking website Worldometer, over 7.6 million cases and nearly 425,000 deaths have been caused by the COVID-19 pandemic worldwide. Australia has been one of the more successful nations battling the disease, with only 102 deaths and 7,290 confirmed cases.

The Australian government has joined the international push to have an inquiry into the coronavirus, an inquiry that will likely dig into China’s missteps that allowed the virus to move beyond its alleged origin in Wuhan. The result is that any existing tensions between Canberra and Beijing have now escalated.

China’s response has been to restrict Australian beef imports and impose tariffs on Australian barley. The communist government is also urging Chinese tourists and students to avoid the continent nation. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Thursday (June 11) he would not be intimidated by what he described as ”coercion.”

The land “Down Under” is an ally of the United States but China is its largest trading partner, with two-way trade worth $162 billion annually. International education is Australia’s fourth-largest export industry, worth $26 billion annually.

China is alleging that “racist incidents” against Chinese students studying in Australia during the pandemic is the reason for their warning to the students. This has put Australia on the defensive as they scramble to come up with a response denying the charges.

The first response from Morrison to Melbourne radio station 3AW was. "That's rubbish. It's a ridiculous assertion."

Beijing reacted furiously to Australian support for a COVID-19 inquiry, targeting Canberra on a number of fronts
Beijing reacted furiously to Australian support for a COVID-19 inquiry, targeting Canberra on a number of fronts AFP / WANG Zhao

He continued, "We have done nothing, nor sought to do anything that is inconsistent with our values or resort to be in any way hostile to our partnership with China. We won't bow or trade away our values.”

The Aussie Labor's education spokesperson Tanya Plibersek said to Radio National Breakfast that Australia offered one of the best university systems in the world and looked forward to welcoming Chinese students back when international border restrictions are eased.

She said, "But this is not a reason for students from any country to decide to not study in Australia. It is a safe destination and a welcoming destination.” She added that Australia needed to take accusations of racism seriously.

Scott Morrison also talked to Sydney radio station 2GB. He said, "Australia provides the best tourism and education products in the world and I know that is compelling. One thing Australia will always do is act in our national interest and never be intimidated by threats." He stressed that it would be up to Chinese students to decide whether they want to come to Australia.

The Australian National University (ANU) said most of its international students remained enrolled and 65% of its Chinese students were in Australia. Other students from abroad have been unable to return to Australia because of travel bans to stop the spread of COVID-19.