Big money is at stake in the Hunter Region over the federal government's diplomatic dispute with China.
Business connections between the Hunter and China have been rising in recent decades, following the sleeping giant's embrace of free markets and long economic boom.
But the clash of culture and politics over the COVID-19 crisis threatens to undo some of these links, as tensions continue to rise between Canberra and Beijing.
China stands accused of covering up the extent of the coronavirus crisis when it first broke out, denying other nations crucial time to prepare for the coming pandemic.
And when Australia announced a travel ban for foreigners travelling from China to help suppress the virus, Beijing criticised Canberra.
As the pandemic became contained in Australia, Prime Minister Scott Morrison called for an independent inquiry into the origins of COVID-19. This prompted China's Ambassador to Australia Cheng Jingye to express frustration.
"The reason why we are opposed to the review is because it's politically motivated," Mr Jingye said.
He suggested that "if the mood is going from bad to worse", Chinese people may question their consumption of Australia's wine and beef, along with education and tourism services.
The Hunter does hundreds of millions of dollars of business with China in these four sectors.
As reported on Wednesday, Hunter beef farmers have been affected by China's ban on four large Australian beef abattoir plants.
Hunter tourism advocate Will Creedon said the Hunter's visitor economy was worth $3.2 billion last year, with more than 12 million visitors coming to the region.
Mr Creedon said Chinese tourism was worth about 3.5 per cent to 5.5 per cent of this, which amounts to about $112 million to $176 million.
"These are extremely sensitive times. The word diplomacy needs to be understood," said Mr Creedon, who runs the Newcastle-based company Alloggio, which manages hotels, motels and holiday homes.
"I'm absolutely for sovereignty. I'm also for ensuring our amenity and liveability continues to prosper and grow in this region and this country.
"We need to be strong around our sovereignty, but need a keen eye on boosting trade so we all have a better life."
The University of Newcastle's revenue was about $767 million in 2018, of which $114 million came from fee-paying overseas students, a federal government report said.
In 2019, Chinese students made up about 7.5 per cent of the university's total students.
"We value them greatly for the diversity they bring to our campuses and for the relationships they help us build," Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Vice President for Global Engagement and Partnerships, Kevin Hall, said.
Professor Hall said there were "enormous benefits to Australia that come from working with China and educating their students".
"Trust and mutual respect must sit at the core of all relationships, particularly when it comes to facing inevitable challenges," Professor Hall said.
Tyrrell's Wines managing director Bruce Tyrrell said China was "our biggest export market".
He said exports to China were worth $750,000 to $1 million a year to his company.
"It's also the market with the highest average price," Mr Tyrrell said, adding that the value of his company's exports to all countries were up 3 per cent in the past year.
Tyrrell's sell mainly red wine to China, but "the amount of white wine is increasing all the time".
Mr Tyrrell said the Australian wine sector secured a free trade agreement with China in 2015.
"Thank god we got that," Mr Tyrrell said.
He said the Australian wine sector was "8 or 9 per cent better off than five or six years ago" because of the agreement.
Asked about the diplomatic row between the two countries, he said: "I think there's a fair bit of sabre-rattling going on at the moment".
"There are lots of threats being thrown around. Let's see what really happens."
Hunter Valley Wine and Tourism Association chief executive Amy Cooper said the wine sector had invested in increasing exports to China.
"Our primary concern around this diplomatic conflict stems from the fact that China is by far our largest export market," Ms Cooper said.
Hunter wineries exported 135,000 litres of wine to China in the 12 months to April.
"China mainland is our major export market at $1.8 million," she said.
"China sales represents 46 per cent of Hunter Valley's current exports."
However, the Hunter's wine export market is only a fraction of its domestic market.
"Hunter Valley produces about 17 million litres of wine each year," she said.
Ms Cooper said marketing wines to China had a flow-on effect for tourism.
"The level of interest in the Hunter as a known wine region in Australia means Chinese tourists do come here," she said.
"It's very much on their bucket list."
Hunter Business Chamber chief executive Bob Hawes said the diplomatic situation was disappointing.
"But in the world of diplomacy, we hope we've got good people in place," Mr Hawes said.