Australia offers safe haven to Hong Kongers, sparking China fury

Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison yesterday brushed aside questions about whether the challenge over Hong Kong would likely lead to further Chinese retaliation, saying: "We will make decisions about what's in our interests, and we will make d
Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison yesterday brushed aside questions about whether the challenge over Hong Kong would likely lead to further Chinese retaliation, saying: "We will make decisions about what's in our interests, and we will make decisions about our laws and our advisories, and we will do that rationally and soberly and consistently."PHOTO: EPA-EFE

PM Morrison acts in response to national security law imposed on city by Beijing

SYDNEY/BEIJING • Australia yesterday offered pathways to permanent residency for thousands of people from Hong Kong and suspended its extradition agreement with the city in response to China's crackdown on dissent, drawing a furious reply from Beijing.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that his government was extending the visas of 10,000 Hong Kongers already in the country, and threw open the door to thousands more wanting to start a new life Down Under.

Mr Morrison said the decisions were taken in response to China's imposition last week of a tough new security law in Hong Kong, which he said "constitutes a fundamental change of circumstances" for the semi-autonomous territory.

"Australia is adjusting... our sovereign laws, our sovereign immigration programme, things that we have responsibility for and jurisdiction over, to reflect the changes that we're seeing," he said during a press conference.

Beijing shot back, condemning Canberra's announcements as violations of "fundamental principles of international relations".

"China... reserves the right to take further reactions, all consequences will be borne by Australia," warned Chinese Foreign Ministry spokes-man Zhao Lijian. "Any attempts to suppress China will never succeed."

The Chinese embassy in Canberra also warned that unless Australia stopped meddling, "it will lead to nothing but lifting a rock only to hit its own feet".

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said China's moves in Hong Kong were discussed yesterday with the country's so-called "Five Eyes" security partners - New Zealand, the United States, Britain and Canada.

The new law, which followed sometimes violent pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, is the most radical change in the city's freedoms since Britain handed it back to China in 1997. The law would give the authorities powers to suppress subversion, sedition, secession and collusion with foreign forces.

China has bristled at widespread global criticism of the law.

It has in recent months imposed tariffs on some Australian imports and impeded trade in other key commodities in response to Australian steps to counter Chinese interference in the country.

China is Australia's biggest trade partner. Two-way trade was worth A$235 billion (S$228 billion) last year.

A HOME DOWN UNDER

If you're a temporary visa holder, your visa will be extended to an additional five years from today, in addition to the time you've already been in Australia, with a pathway to permanent residency at the end of that period... If there are businesses that wish to relocate to Australia... then we will be very proactive in seeking to encourage that.

AUSTRALIAN PM SCOTT MORRISON, in a message to Hong Kongers.

China, which is also competing for influence in the Pacific, was notably infuriated when Australia led calls for a probe into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Morrison yesterday brushed aside questions about whether the challenge over Hong Kong would likely lead to further Chinese retaliation. "We will make decisions about what's in our interests, and we will make decisions about our laws and our advisories, and we will do that rationally and soberly and consistently," he said.

Under the new measures, 10,000 Hong Kong citizens and residents in Australia on student or temporary work visas will be allowed to remain in the country for an additional five years.

"If you're a temporary visa holder, your visa will be extended to an additional five years from today, in addition to the time you've already been in Australia, with a pathway to permanent residency at the end of that period," Mr Morrison said.

The five-year visa and possible permanent residency offer was also extended to Hong Kong entrepreneurs or skilled workers who wish to relocate to Australia in the future.

"If there are businesses that wish to relocate to Australia, creating jobs, bringing investment, creating opportunities for Australia, then we will be very proactive in seeking to encourage that," he said.

The move echoed Australia's response to the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown when Canberra offered refuge to some 42,000 Chinese students and their families. But it contrasts with the current Conservative government's policy of restricting immigration.

Mr Morrison said he did not expect a rush of new visa applications from Hong Kongers, in part due to coronavirus travel restrictions.

He added that it would be "very disappointing" if China tried to prevent Hong Kong residents from taking advantage of the offer.

Meanwhile, New Zealand is also reviewing its relationship with Hong Kong because of the new law, "including extradition arrangements, controls on exports of strategic goods, and travel advice", its Foreign Minister Winston Peters said yesterday.

Separately, the British government has offered more than three million Hong Kongers a broader path to citizenship, while Canada has suspended its extradition treaty with Hong Kong.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 10, 2020, with the headline 'Australia offers safe haven to Hong Kongers, sparking China fury'. Print Edition | Subscribe