About two months ago, Jing Travel discussed how Chinese tourism is putting an Australia in a difficult situation. Chinese tourism is creating potential conflicts of free speech, educational integrity, and foreign policy goals with efforts to boost Chinese revenue through both holiday and educational tourism. Recent political upheaval in Australia only further underlines how increased economic engagement with China is a legitimate threat to Australian democracy.
Australian Senator Sam Dastyari will step down due to connections with Chinese actors
At the center of this ongoing debate over the Sino-Australian relationship is Sam Dastyari, a Labor Senator from New South Wales. Dastyari recently announced that he would step down. Dastyari had been in vocal opposition to his own party’s stance on issues like the South China Sea territorial dispute and even had informed a Chinese billionaire acquaintance, Huang Xiangmo, that he might be under surveillance. When it came out that he had been receiving gifts and large sums of money from Chinese firms and wealthy individuals, accusations that he had been bought by Chinese actors became even harder to deny.
China is Australia’s most important trading partner by far. Chinese educational tourism is increasingly valuable with the number of Chinese students in Australia growing from 120,000 to 140,000 between May 2016 and May 2017.
On average, each Chinese visit to Australia resulted in $5,000 in expenditure in 2016
China will also soon be Australia’s largest tourist source market with about 1.2 million arrivals in 2016 and spending AUD$9.2 billion ($6.945 billion). On average, each Chinese visit to Australia resulted in $5,000 in expenditure. This is substantially higher than per capita spending by Hong Kong tourists, who are on average substantially wealthier but only spend on average $3,600.
Chinese tourists are a cash cow for Australia, and this makes the current scandal surrounding Sam Dastyari even more worrisome. Australian Liberal Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, has vowed to come down hard on such foreign influences in Australian politics with new reforms.
Australian business leaders fear anti-corruption efforts will harm Sino-Australian trade and tourism
Chairman of the Australia China Business Council, John Brumby argues that Sino-Australian relations are at a “tipping point.” Of particular concern is the substantial revenue brought in by Chinese students at Australian universities. This fear is rational to an extent; the state-run People’s Daily has claimed that accusations of Chinese influence-buying in Australia are “racist.”
With the continued surge in Chinese tourism to Australia and bilateral trade, the long-term potential for issues regarding the impact of Chinese political and economic issues affecting Sino-Australian relations is substantial. Maintaining strong economic cooperation with China, which includes tourism, will require a deft hand to manage the potentially corrupting influence of foreign actors on Australia’s democratic institutions along with encouraging Sino-Australian trade and tourism.
The threat of China using tourism to retaliate against Australia for perceived slights against the Chinese nation is genuine. For example, China was able to use tourism to force South Korea to accept major concessions. Hopefully, Australia’s government and business community won’t have to decide on whether the health of its democracy is worth the revenue it derives from Chinese tourism.