Wang Wenbin, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, said that border officers had conflated university military training – which is compulsory for students in China – with actual military training.
Speaking at a news briefing, Wenbin accused Australian border law enforcement officers of interrogating Chinese students and examining their mobile phones for “no reason” as they entered the country, before repatriating them.
Chinese students normally undergo military service for up to one month during their first year of university.
China has lodged solemn representation with Australia, a diplomatic term for formally expressing discontent.
“What the Australian side has done is at odds with the mutually beneficial and win-win nature of China-Australia people-to-people and cultural exchanges,” Wang said. “China will firmly safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese students in Australia.”
Chinese students represent the largest proportion of foreign students in Australia, but experts believe this incident is unlikely to deter them from choosing Australia as a study destination in future.
“I don’t expect this to have a significant dampening effect on demand as a whole”
“I don’t expect this to have a significant dampening effect on demand as a whole,” said James Laurenceson, director of the Australia-China Relations Institute at the University of Technology Sydney.
“The experience of recent years is that demand from China for Australian higher education displays impressive resilience. This is mostly because the people-to-people links between the two countries are so strong that potential students cross-check statements and assertions made by China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs or state media outlets with their own networks.”
An Australian Border Force spokesperson told Reuters that it “can and does cancel visas at the border if a traveller has provided false information”.
In 2021, three Chinese students were reportedly deported from America after photos of them receiving military instruction were found on their phones.