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Australia offers safe haven to Hongkongers in wake of draconian security law

Hong Kong Police Force (Kacey Wong/WikiCommons)
July 10, 2020

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

Australia on Thursday said it was suspending its extradition agreement with China and extending stays for visa-holders from Hong Kong, after the ruling Chinese Communist Party imposed a draconian security law on the city that threatens anyone criticising the authorities or showing support for the protest movement.

Australian prime minister Scott Morrison said his government would be extending the visas of some 10,000 Hongkongers already in the country and offering pathways to permanent residency for thousands more who would normally qualify for visas.

“Australia is adjusting its laws, our sovereign laws, our sovereign immigration programme, things that we have responsibility for and jurisdiction over, to reflect the changes that we’re seeing take place there,” Morrison told journalists.

Under the plan, 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, with a pathway to permanent residency.

The programme was also offered 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,” Morrison said.

Beijing immediately slammed the offer as a violation of “fundamental principles of international relations”.

“China… reserves the right to take further reactions, all consequences will be borne by Australia,” foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a regular news briefing in Beijing. “Any attempts to suppress China will never succeed.”

Morrison said his government wouldn’t heed Beijing’s threats.

“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.

Meanwhile, Australian foreign minister Marise Payne said Canberra had discussed Hong Kong’s newly imposed national security law with its “Five Eyes” security partners — New Zealand, the United States, Britain, and Canada.

Other offers may follow

Hong Kong current affairs commentator Liu Ruishao said he expects to see similar offers from other countries in the days and weeks to come.

“I think this move by Australia will encourage a consensus among other Western countries, whether they be in Western Europe, or the U.S. and Canada,” Liu said.

“We could also see a change in the numbers of countries that are friendly with China for economic reasons, that could lean more towards the West for diplomatic and political reasons at the United Nations,” he said.

Taiwan political analyst Wu Jiemin on Thursday called the national security law, which has seen China’s feared state security police set up shop in the city, a “Berlin Wall” for Hong Kong.

Hong Kong authorities have already warned that anyone shouting or displaying popular protest slogans such as “Free Hong Kong, revolution now!”, or singing the protest anthem Glory to Hong Kong, could face sanctions or even prosecution under the new regime, a clear break with the freedoms of expression and association promised to the city’s seven million residents by Beijing.

“China has destroyed and eliminated Hong Kong’s flexible identity … the door has been closed,” Wu told a seminar in Taipei.

“This is the China model, which [the Chinese Communist Party] is not just implementing in China, but which it wants to export worldwide,” he said.

He said General Secretary Xi Jinping is using the concept of “self-confidence” to challenge the U.S. on the world stage.

“We can reasonably conclude that the Chinese government, the Chinese ruling elite, and the Xi Jinping administration are preparing for long-term confrontation with the U.S.,” Wu said.

“Hong Kong is an important battlefield in this overall war,” he said, adding that China plans to use the security law to isolate Hong Kong from its international connections.

“Once this Berlin Wall is fully complete, the system of oppression will be normalized, and the whole of Hong Kong will be under total Communist Party control,” he warned.

Lawyers ‘gravely alarmed’

Lawyers in the U.K. said on Thursday they were “gravely alarmed” by the law’s imposition on Hong Kong without a full text being made available to anyone in the city beforehand.

In a letter to Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam, the Law Society of England and Wales and the Bar Council of England and Wales said there were also concerns over the right to a fair trial, and judicial independence.

It said the law, which carries maximum sentences of life imprisonment for the crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign powers, was “vaguely defined,” with an “overly broad” definition of terrorism in particular.

“The law has broadly worded extra-territorial application, applying to actions not committed within Hong Kong by persons who are not permanent residents of Hong Kong,” the letter said, adding that there are “significant concerns” over the likelihood of a fair trial in cases administered directly by China’s feared state security apparatus, which can order cases to be tried in mainland Chinese courts under the law.

Arrangements for the appointment of judges in national security trials also allowed for “undue political inference with the judiciary in Hong Kong.”

“The provisions of the national security law give rise to grave concerns that this law may be used to stem dissent, arrest and criminally prosecute members of the legal profession and others who legally exercise their internationally recognized human rights,” it said.

“We believe that the national security law undermines the rule of law and separation of powers in Hong Kong and allows for violations of human rights of its citizens and others,” the letter said.