Last week’s horrific, unprovoked attack on a pair of Chinese students at a bus stop in Canberra, Australia could be a turning point on how Australia will be perceived by the Chinese as a potential destination for higher education, observers have noted.
On Monday, two international students were reportedly attacked by at least two local teenagers at around 7:30 p.m. at the Woden bus interchange. The incident, which sent one of the victims to the hospital, has been widely covered by Chinese media and generally condemned on local social media platforms.
In an interview with Beijing Youth Daily, Chinese student “Li Li”, a friend of the victims, explained that the students were attacked after being asked for cigarettes. There were other reports that the attackers also verbally abused them, screaming “F….g Chinese! Go back to your country!”
One of the students received multiple punches even as he dropped and laid on the ground, taking blows to his head and body. With fears of getting deported and upsetting their parents, the Chinese students did not fight back. One of them suffered serious injuries and had to be taken to Canberra Hospital where he spent two nights before being released.
Li Li also noted how the Chinese students have been heavily affected by the names they typically get called in Australia.
“Some people say we are ‘stupid and rich’, ‘foreign worshippers’, and deserve to be beaten. In fact, many of our students are from ordinary families. The money is earned by our parents, one penny after another, and tuition fees are paid by ‘biting teeth’,” Li Li was quoted as saying.
Members of the Chinese student community in Canberra have since expressed fear, noting that the attack was just one of among a number of recent harassment incidents in the area. It was not reported whether the teenagers who attacked the two students are also connected to the other incidents mentioned.
In an interview with a Beijing newspaper, one Chinese student, who goes to the same school as the victims, revealed that a group of 20 to 30 Australian youths allegedly swore at him and at other Chinese students before pushing them into a Chinese restaurant just a day after the bus stop attack.
Numerous students have also claimed that the attacks were apparently meant to intimidate Chinese students, reports ABC.
Merriden Varrall, who serves as the director of East Asia programs in Lowy Institute, said the high profile assault “could certainly affect decision making” of many Chinese students who were considering migrating to Australia for education.
Chinese daily newspaper Global Times echoed a similar sentiment, noting how the incident would cause many Chinese people to feel Australia isn’t safe, according to Sydney Morning Herald.
“If Australia does not take strong measures to eliminate the impact of this matter, this incident and the series of recent negative events and comments against Chinese in Australia will constitute a turning point, reshaping Chinese people’s foundation for understanding Australian society,” the Global Times’ Monday editorial read.
The paper further pointed out how a shift in the attitude of the Chinese towards Australia would definitely make a significant impact toward its multi-billion dollar international education market.
While local authorities have committed to stepping up patrols and improving engagement, members of the Chinese community have taken it upon themselves to offer support to each other. A WeChat group has also been reportedly established to help Chinese students who need transport around Canberra and avoid public transport.