Australians living in or travelling to China are being warned that they may face “arbitrary detention”, as the relationship between the two countries continues to sour.
Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) updated the advice on its Smart Traveller website on Tuesday, urging its citizens to steer clear of the Chinese mainland amid claims that Chinese Government authorities had detained foreigners who were deemed to be "endangering national security".
“If you’re already in China, and wish to return to Australia, we recommend you do so as soon as possible by commercial means,” the travel advice reads. “Authorities have detained foreigners because they're 'endangering national security'. Australians may also be at risk of arbitrary detention.”
In response, China's foreign ministry insisted that "foreigners in China have absolutely nothing to worry about as long as they abide by the law"—with ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian telling reporters that China hoped Australia would "remain objective and fair and do more to benefit the development of China-Australia relations".
Those relations have frayed in recent months, following the Australian government’s push for a global inquiry into China's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. That move, which was interpreted by some as being a targeted sleight against Beijing, prompted the Chinese government to harden its own travel advice in early June.
The Chinese Ministry of Culture and Tourism issued an alert warning its citizens that “due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, racial discrimination and violence against Chinese and Asian people in Australia have seen a significant increase.
“The Ministry of Culture and Tourism reminds Chinese tourists to enhance their safety awareness and do not travel to Australia," the statement said.
Just weeks earlier, China imposed a severe 80 percent tariff on Australian barley imports, claiming the product had previously been imported against trade rules. In a subsequent statement, Chinese Commerce Minister Zhong Shan suggested that Australia was the one responsible for creating trade tensions between the two countries.
Continuing the tit-for-tat, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed last week that Australia is "actively considering" offering safe haven to Hong Kong residents following the rollout of China’s controversial national security laws in the region.
"Australia is troubled by the law's implications for Hong Kong's judicial independence, and on the rights and freedoms enjoyed by the people of Hong Kong, both of which underpin the city's success," Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said in a statement.
In response, a Chinese embassy spokesperson accused Australia of “meddling” in issues that were not of their concern.
"We hope the Australian side take an objective and rational view on the legislation, abide by international law and basic norms of international relations, and stop meddling in Hong Kong affairs and China's internal affairs," the spokesperson said.
The escalation of DFAT’s travel advice is likely to inflame diplomatic tensions even further. The Department’s Level 4 "do not travel" alert, which discourages Australians from travelling to China during the COVID-19 pandemic, also remains in place.