Australia announced on Thursday that they would be suspending their extradition agreements with Hong Kong and extending the visas of up to 10,000 Hong Kongers already in the country in response to the recently enacted national security law from Beijing.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that the decision was prompted by the “fundamental change of circumstances” in the city and that Australia had “formally notified Hong Kong and advised the Chinese authorities” of the decision.
Beijing’s new national security law in Hong Kong would prohibit all acts of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces. It would also enable offenders to be punished with a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
“There will be citizens of Hong Kong who may be looking to move elsewhere, to start a new life somewhere else, to take their skills, their businesses and things that they have been running under the previous set of rules and arrangements in Hong Kong, and seek that opportunity elsewhere,” Morrison said.
“Australia has always been a very welcoming country to such people from all around the world,” he added.
He also said that students, graduates and workers from Hong Kong living in Australia on temporary visas could extend their stay by five years and apply for permanent residency after that time.
In addition to extending the visas of Hong Kongers, it was also announced that Australia would offer new incentives for businesses to relocate. Future visa applicants from Hong Kong would be prioritized under Australia’s Global Talent Scheme and business visa program.
“There is so much talent in Hong Kong,” said Alan Tudge, the Acting Immigration Minister of Australia. “There are great businesses in Hong Kong. And we know that many individuals now might be looking elsewhere, because they do want to be in a freer country, they want to be in a democratic country.”
This would mark the biggest visa system upheaval since 1989, when Australia offered asylum to around 42,000 Chinese students who were in Australia after the pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square were violently shut down by the Chinese government.
Australia also changed their travel advisory for Hong Kong, urging some 100,000 Australians who currently live and work there to “reconsider your need to remain in Hong Kong” in light of the new law.
This move prompted the Chinese embassy in Canberra to issue a statement in response saying that Australia’s “meddling in Hong Kong’s affairs and China’s internal affairs … will lead to nothing but lifting a rock only to hit its own feet.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian also addressed this development in his regular press briefing on Thursday, saying that “They constitute gross interference in China’s internal affairs, and China doesn’t accept it. We express strong condemnation and reserve the right to make further reaction, and Australia should bear all the consequences.”
However, Hong Kongers living in Australia welcomed Australia’s decision.
Sunny Cheng, a representative for the Association of Hong Kongers in Western Australia said that “Hong Kong is facing something hopeless and dreadful. We are really grateful that Australia offers a helping hand in this really difficult period of time.”
He also praised the move to establish incentives for Hong Kong businesses to relocate to Australia, saying that they could help rebuild Australia’s suffering economy after the coronavirus pandemic.
“We are hardworking. We can help to rebuild,” said Cheng.
Morrison’s decision to revise its relationship with Hong Kong follows similar moves made by other foreign governments in the last week.
Last Friday, Canada also decided to suspend its extradition agreement with Hong Kong as well as halt the export of sensitive goods to Hong Kong.Meanwhile, New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters announced on Thursday that “China’s decision to pass a new national security law for Hong Kong has fundamentally changed the environment for international engagement there” and that the government would review its arrangements with Hong Kong regarding extradition, trade restrictions and travel.
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