Chinese embassy tells Australia to 'stop meddling' after Hong Kong visa extensions announced

| 09.07,20. 07:45 PM |

Chinese embassy tells Australia to 'stop meddling' after Hong Kong visa extensions announced

Police have been cracking down on dissent since the new laws were introduced.(AP: Vincent Yu)

The Chinese embassy has condemned Australia's decision to extend the visas of some Hong Kongers in response to China's crackdown on personal freedoms, saying it is a "gross interference" in the country's internal affairs.

Australia will offer a path to permanent residency for thousands of Hong Kong citizens, while suspending its extradition agreement with the city in response to China's crackdown on personal freedoms and dissent.

In a statement, China's embassy in Canberra said it "strongly deplores and opposes the groundless accusations and measures announced by the Australian Government".

"Which is a serious violation of international law and basic norms governing international relations, and a gross interference in China's internal affairs.

"Hong Kong affairs are China's internal affairs. The Australian side has been clanking that they oppose 'foreign interference'. However, they have blatantly interfered in China's internal affairs by making irresponsible remarks on Hong Kong-related issues.

"Its hypocrisy and double standard is exposed in full."

The embassy said it urged the Federal Government to "stop meddling" in Hong Kong affairs.

The changes announced by the Prime Minister apply to people already in Australia, offering safe haven and a path to remaining in Australia.

Temporary work visa holders and student visa holders currently in Australia will have their visas extended, and will have the opportunity to apply for permanent residency after that period.

Separate efforts will be made to entice businesses looking to move their operations from Hong Kong to set up shop in Australia.

It is understood the visa changes will affect about 10,500 students and 1,500 people on other relevant visas, most of whom are already in Australia.

But Prime Minister Scott Morrison did not detail any plans for a humanitarian intake of Hong Kong residents.

"The most significant impact of the decisions we've made today are for those around 10,000 people who are already in Australia," he said.

"The refugee and humanitarian stream remains available for those seeking to apply through that channel, and that is available to people all around the world."

Extradition agreement suspended
Hong Kong has recently introduced new national security laws which criminalise dissent and opposition to Chinese rule.

The laws have been met with protests and arrests.

Australia is part of a number of countries to have denounced the laws, imposed by the Chinese Government.

Australia is also suspending its extradition agreement with Hong Kong.

Mr Morrison said the agreement was on hold because the new laws represented a "fundamental change in circumstances" that undermined the One Country, Two Systems framework that Hong Kong is governed under.

There are concerns that maintaining an extradition treaty with Hong Kong could lead to people facing charges in China.

Bing Ling, a Professor of Chinese Law at the University of Sydney, said he believed Australia had little choice but to suspend the treaty.

"With any extradition agreement, there needs to be trust and confidence between the two legal systems," he said.

"You want the other country to treat a criminal defendant in a fair way, according to international standards, when you extradite someone to them.

"I think there is this risk of someone being sent to Hong Kong and ending up in mainland China."

The travel advice for Hong Kong has been upgraded and now warns that Australians who visit the city "may be at increased risk of detention on vaguely defined national security grounds".

The change follows the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's decision on Tuesday to warn Australians in China they may be at risk of "arbitrary detention".

Shadow Foreign Minister Penny Wong said Labor agreed with the Government's suspension of extradition, and the visa offer, but said it did not go far enough.

"The Government should ensure no Hong Konger is involuntarily deported," Senator Wong said.

"It is not clear from the Government's announcement, the extent to which these arrangements will be more broadly available to the people of Hong Kong.

"Family reunion is not clear — there are still many people who are ineligible for the pathways proposed."

Chinese response not unexpected
The Government's announcement was expected to draw a furious response from Beijing.

The Chinese Government reacted angrily when the United Kingdom announced it would offer many Hong Kong residents a path to citizenship, accusing Britain of harbouring a "colonial mentality" towards the city it once ruled.

Beijing also warned it may not permit Hong Kong residents to leave the city and take up residence in the UK, although it is not clear how this would be enforced.

It has also warned of "consequences" for nations which "interfere in [China's] internal affairs".

Earlier this week, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade updated its travel advice for mainland China, warning Australians could face "arbitrary detention" by local authorities.

The Chinese Embassy responded with an angry statement labelling the new travel advice "ridiculous" and "misinformation".

Incentives offered to attract businesses
Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge said the changes would provide a pathway to permanent residency in Australia for some Hong Kong residents.

"Current and future students from Hong Kong will be eligible for a five-year temporary graduate visa on the successful conclusion of their studies, and that will come with a pathway for permanent residency," he said.

Temporary skilled visa holders currently in Australia will be offered an additional five years in Australia, with a path to citizenship, while future applicants for temporary skilled visas will be given five-year visas if they meet skills shortages.

Applicants from Hong Kong that put their hand up for talent and business innovation programs will be prioritised to come to Australia, and the Government says it will incentivise businesses to move from Hong Kong to Australia.

Mr Tudge said that would come with a "package of visas" to allow staff to relocate to Australia and work towards permanent residency.

"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," Mr Tudge said.


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