Kevin Rudd ... mandarin-speaking MP. Photo: Matt Roberts
Former foreign affairs minister Kevin Rudd has started damage control to head off a potential diplomatic row with China after a media storm over an alleged attack on two Chinese students in Sydney.
Police said six people, aged 14 to 18, robbed passengers on a train between Central and Rockdale about 12.30am on Monday.
This event has reverberated thousandfold around China, on Weibo and in mainstream media
Officers were called to Rockdale station about 15 minutes later, where they arrested three men, two aged 18 and one 19, a 14-year-old boy and two girls, aged 16 and 17.
A screen grab of a message Kevin Rudd posted on Chinese social network Weibo.
They were all charged with a number of robbery and assault offences.
After receiving the report on the attack, Mr Rudd called the Minister for Immigration Chris Bowen and the deputy secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
He also messaged the Chinese ambassador in Canberra and Australia's top diplomat in Beijing, Frances Adamson.
Fairfax Media understands that Mr Rudd also raised the issue with the NSW Police authorities through an email.
The Mandarin-speaking MP put his language prowess to use and posted sympathetic comments on the Chinese social media site Weibo to placate the angry Chinese students.
"I completely detest racism and the safety of international students should be our most basic responsibility," Mr Rudd said.
He also downplayed the racial aspect of the attack and said the robbery and assault was not directed against Chinese.
"Apart from the two Chinese students, other people were also robbed, the attack was not directed at Chinese."
Mr Rudd has invited Chinese students to share their Australian study experiences with him.
"I have a special interest in the experience of Chinese students, deep emotional connection and even a sense of responsibility. Though I don't have any power or responsibility now ... I am still interested in receiving reports about your experiences in Australia."
The media storm surrounding the student attack has spread beyond China into Malaysia, Singapore, Japan and Hong Kong.
Singapore-based English-language newspaper The Straits Times reported that "Chinese students [were] beaten and robbed in Australia".
The president of the Australia-China Youth Association, Jeffrey Sheehy, said: "This event is not only tragic for those involved, but also damaging to Australia's reputation in China. This event has reverberated thousandfold around China, on Weibo and in mainstream media."
Mr Rudd's damage control move seems have yielded positive results. Many students have heaped praise on the former prime minister and thanked him for his effort to raise the issue with the Australian authorities.
Tinco, a Weibo user from Perth wrote: "I am living in Perth now and just graduated. I was mugged when I was a student but I still love this country."
Mocmex, a blogger from China said: "Despite the possibility of facing discrimination in Australia, there is still the infrastructure of justice and many layers of checks and balances in this society. There are channels for the disadvantaged minorities to voice their concerns and politicians like Kevin Rudd who cares to listen.
"Unlike in China, where people have to rely on the internet to seek redress and some complainants have been sent to mental asylum."
Peter Cai is The Age's Asian Affairs Reporter.