This is part of a four-part series looking at how the coronavirus epidemic affects China’s relationships with the rest of the world. Part four focuses on how the virus is affecting the tourism and education industries due to various travel bans and restrictions. “Despite tough talk about a new divide, there has not been a major break in the number of travellers and migrants flowing between the world’s two biggest economies,” read research published in mid-January when the coronavirus was largely contained in China. At the time there were only 41 cases reported in the Chinese city of Wuhan, while the first case outside mainland China had been reported a day earlier in Thailand. The research paper published by the Washington-based Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE) downplayed fears of a decoupling of the “most basic and important” US-China link, human interactions and people-to-people exchanges, saying any concerns “seem exaggerated”. I think the outbreak does have the potential of being a general decoupler. And this could have the potential of starting a deglobalisation event Jacob Funk Kirkegaard Even the slowdown in the growth in the number of Chinese students going to the United States was not enough to warrant a confirmation of a “decoupling”, the research by Tianlei Huang and Jacob Funk Kirkegaard said. But less than two months later, with the figure for China having exceeded 80,000 with over 3,000 deaths and the number of cases in some 100 places around the world more than 100,000, the authors have taken a different view. “I think the outbreak does have the potential of being a general decoupler. And this could have the potential of starting a deglobalisation event,” Kirkegaard said “It occurs every time you have events that disrupt supply chains, and students and tourists are the people portion of supply chains … we must be clear that the coronavirus is a shock to mobility. “The impact [to mobility] is very large if the outbreak is not contained [elsewhere] then decouplings will happen by default.” If the outbreak had been confined to China, then the impact on people movement – mainly students and tourists – would have had a short shelf life. But the spread of the outbreak globally could now not only decouple the movement of people between China and the US but also movement worldwide, they said. Huang added that if the deglobalisation of human movement was triggered, the already fragile US-China route would likely suffer the first blow given existing trade war tensions. The retreat of tourists would be the first manifestation of the decoupling of people movement, but the tourism sector would in turn stand a better chance of recovering faster following the resolution of the outbreak. Student decoupling, however, has the potential of being more serious, taking a longer time to both materialise and recover, Huang added. In the US, a Boston-based Chinese student agent said applications had dropped significantly following the virus outbreak, exacerbating an existing trough in enrolments. A senior member of staff, who asked not to be named, said students applying for summer schools in the US were very likely to cancel their applications, citing mobility restrictions with China as one of the reasons. “All schools have policies banning students from returning to China in the next few months, and some have also advised students not to travel at all. Some schools have also started organising summer projects to accommodate a flood of students who cannot return home,” she said. Students expected to start in September will face the greatest roadblocks, as they and their parents struggle to travel to the US for preschool interviews, while also facing delays in visa approvals, the staff member added. Canada’s university body, Universities Canada, also offered a view that points to student decoupling increasing later in the year. “Canadian universities are indeed concerned about the potential loss of incoming Chinese students to our campuses and country,” said assistant director of international relations Cindy McIntyre. “We are confident that Chinese student enrolments will resume following the crisis, though we do recognise that greater shifts underway in China are predicted to lead to lower numbers of outbound students in the future.” In Britain, universities have started to put in place contingency planning with its local and international education partners, Universities UK said. While the curtailment of travel was the immediate impediment to student flow, a darker problem in the form of racism looms ahead, students and consultants said. Chinese students enrolled in Australia have expressed strong objections to the travel ban placed on overseas visitors including students, a move many labelled as discriminatory and disruptive. Australia followed the US in enacting a ban, first introduced at the start of February, which has been extended four times and is now in force until Friday. Last week, Iranian and South Korean travellers were added to the ban after coronavirus infections spiked. Both the ban and a perceived “blind” mimicking of the US has deepened a sense of distrust among students, with Chinese education entrepreneur and popular social media personality David Gulasi telling a forum held by Study NSW in Sydney in February that rising racism has led to a high level of anxiety among students. What Chinese people are thinking is that Australia doesn’t want us David Gulasi “What Chinese people are thinking is that Australia doesn’t want us,” said Gulasi, who has established himself as a pro-China online influence. “They don’t know what to do … and on top of that there is racism. They are asking me everyday if they should return or will they get beaten up on the streets?” At the end of February, a 29-year-old Chinese student, only known as Constantine, had to undergo reconstructive surgery after he was beaten up in Adelaide amid a tirade of racist abuse, while a group of around 70 Chinese students who arrived in Sydney just as the travel ban was announced were detained by Australia's immigration department. In London, a 23-year-old Singaporean student of Chinese ethnicity was assaulted , with The Metropolitan Police in London saying at the time they were investigating a “racially aggravated assault”. Gulasi, who owns several English schools in China, also said that many students had already started asking for refunds of course fees and were looking at options elsewhere including Canada which did not have a travel ban. An Education Consultants Association of Australia survey of 16,000 of the 100,000 Chinese students enrolled in Australian institutions who are currently trapped in China, showed more than a third were already contemplating alternative countries, although the majority were willing to continue their studies while under quarantine if the ban was lifted. Sydney postgraduate student and Beijing native Alex Chen said she considered leaving Australia before deciding to take a flight to Britain – where she has an existing multi-entry visa – to serve the 14 day-quarantine before returning to Australia. “I have a tightening sensation of fear and feel like I need to be on a constant high alert when I am in the UK and Australia. I am anticipating potential violence,” she said. “No one should in our society should feel that way … but the problem is I am Asian, and they can see it. That travel ban was a knee-jerk reaction, premised on lazy policies.” The Australian government’s approach is a bit extreme, and appears to blindly follow the US without considering the loss of credibility to its education industry Ethan Chen said countries like the US and Australia with big land masses had no reason to implement a ban, whereas bans in smaller countries like Singapore were understandable. Two other students, Ethan and Joyce, agreed but said they would continue as they are already halfway through their courses. “The Australian government’s approach is a bit extreme, and appears to blindly follow the US without considering the loss of credibility to its education industry,” Ethan said. “It would be more suitable for Australia to emulate Singapore’s isolation policy for international students. For me, in addition to the virus handling, rising tuition fees and cuts in teaching content have also affected my view of Australia.” The Australia’s Department of Education, though, defended the travel ban saying it was made on the “advice of the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee” but did not respond when directly asked whether the combined impact of racist attacks and previous spy allegations targeted at Chinese students would hurt student numbers in Australia. However, university body Universities Australia, was making an effort to stand by its students by offering flexible study options including postponement of courses, delayed assessments, fee-free deferrals and online learning. Mikki, a Chinese postgraduate student in Bristol in the southwest of England, was more optimistic that there would not be a general retreat of students, saying that Chinese student’s “will” to study overseas would mitigate the short-term fallout. “Studying overseas is a dream, you know,” she said. “Experiencing a different culture is important and overseas courses are shorter. Even in an outbreak, I wouldn’t want to give up my education.” Unlike education, any decoupling in the tourism sector caused by the outbreak, particularly with the US, would be mostly temporary, said consultancy firm Tourism Economics. Even then, the absence of Chinese tourists would be felt long into the next few years until as far as 2024, its analysts said. “Despite the uncertainty of the impact, it is our current view that the virus will have a high but short-lived impact on Chinese travel and tourism, as during the 2003 Sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome) episode,” Tourism Economics said in a report in early February. “Analysis of previous health crises suggests a rapid recovery is likely if the outbreak is contained relatively quickly.” Using Sars as a benchmark, the Chinese travel market largely recovered to the same level by 2006, three years after the crisis. But before any recovery gets underway, the US would stand to lose 1.6 million Chinese visitors or a 28 per cent drop in volume from its largest source of tourists in 2020. Our greater China region isn’t operating and regional events and travel are mostly cancelled. We have curtailed travel to and from China and may extend that to other Asian cities Survey response by unnamed company “However, even with a strong rebound, losses will extend through 2024 … this does not include potential losses from other markets in Asia, where effects will also be felt,” Tourism Economics said. Declines in forward bookings from Chinese tourists and cancellations by customers in Asia were in full swing in Australia, a survey of over 1,000 businesses by research house Roy Morgan said. “Our greater China region isn’t operating and regional events and travel are mostly cancelled,” one of the companies who responded to the SMS text survey said. “We have curtailed travel to and from China and may extend that to other Asian cities.” The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) forecasts a potential global loss in travel earnings of around US$80 billion, with Chinese travellers unlikely to start booking holidays until the second quarter of 2021. 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