A growing war of words between Australia and China over Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s push for an inquiry into the source of the Covid-19 pandemic could threaten Australia’s tourism sector.
Cheng Jingye, the Chinese Ambassador to Australia, has warned that Chinese tourists may boycott coming to Australia.
“The Chinese public is frustrated, dismayed and disappointed with what you are doing now,” Cheng told the Australian Financial Review. “In the long term, for example, I think if the mood is going from bad to worse, people would think why we should go to such a country while it’s not so friendly to China. The tourists may have second thoughts.”
China is now Australia’s largest source of international visitors, with 1.44 million Chinese visitors heading to Australia in the 12 months to November 2019.
Speaking to news.com.au, Peter Jennings, executive director at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said there were dangers in becoming to reliant on a nation that “does not behave like capitalist economies”.
“We hoped it would behave like one when it went into the World Trade Organisation, but at its heart, we’ve got a one-party state that is prepared to use economic connections for political purposes,” he said.
“We’ve denied it for years, but we’ve allowed ourselves to become very dependent on economic connections. I think it’s enormously serious. We will be able to work our way through it through a combination of building other markets, but that’s going to take years and won’t be easy.”
But Jennings said it would be hard for the Chinese government to ban its citizens from visiting Australia.
“I don’t think it’s as easy for them as people imagine,” he said. “In one sense it’s true that they can just stop visas overnight and say Australia is not a tourist destination, but the risk they run by doing it is that they annoy a large number of their own people.
“When Chinese people come here as tourists, it’s because they like Australia. Even if the Chinese Communist Party doesn’t like us, the average Chinese person does.”