• Reuters

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Asked Thursday whether Australia would keep taking hits on exports from major trading partner China, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he would not be intimidated or give into coercion.

Diplomatic tensions between China and Australia have worsened since Australia called for an international inquiry into the source and spread of the coronavirus, angering Beijing.

The World Health Assembly last month voted to support an independent review into the pandemic after Australia and the European Union led lobbying.

On Tuesday, China’s Ministry of Education said students should reconsider choosing to study in Australia, threatening Australia’s fourth-largest export industry, international education, which is worth 38 billion Australian dollars ($26 billion) annually.

“We are an open-trading nation, mate, but I’m never going to trade our values in response to coercion from wherever it comes,” Morrison told radio station 2GB on Thursday.

China has in recent weeks banned Australian beef imports and imposed tariffs on Australian barley.

The warning for students followed a similar warning last week by Beijing for Chinese tourists to avoid Australia.

In both cases, officials in Beijing said the warnings were due to racist attacks against Asians during the pandemic.

“That’s rubbish. It’s a ridiculous assertion and it’s rejected. That’s not a statement that’s been made by the Chinese leadership,” Morrison said in a separate interview on 3AW.

Australia lodged a protest with the Chinese foreign ministry in Beijing, and the Chinese Embassy in Canberra, about China’s travel and student warnings, a spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said.

The Australian government rejected the assertion it was unsafe to visit or study in Australia, according to a statement.

“Australia provides the best education and tourism products in the world,” Morrison told 2GB. “The ability for Chinese nationals to be able to choose to come to Australia (has) substantively been their decision. And I’m very confident in the attractiveness of our product.”

The coalition representing Australia’s elite universities, the Group of Eight, has said international education was “being used as a political pawn”. China is Australia’s largest trading partner, with two-way trade worth AU$235 billion a year.

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