Australia condemns Hong Kong security laws but says no China sanctionsby Michael Smith
Shanghai | Canberra | Australia has joined the United States and other countries in condemning China for imposing a new security law on Hong Kong but Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the government was not considering imposing sanctions on Chinese officials.
The move came after China's parliament passed a motion that will allow its lawmakers to override Hong Kong's legislature and implement new laws designed to stamp out terrorism, secession and foreign influence in the city.
Britain, which ruled Hong Kong until its handover to China in 1997, said it would extend visa rights for more than 300,000 Hong Kong citizens who hold special passports granted before the transition. This could help them gain citizenship if they wanted to leave Hong Kong permanently.
A joint statement by Australia, Britain, the US and Canada on Friday said China's direct intervention in the city's lawmaking would breach a 1984 agreement between London and Beijing to protect the city's autonomy until 2047.
"Hong Kong has flourished as a bastion of freedom," the four countries said in the joint statement. The security law would "curtail the Hong Kong people's liberties, and in doing so, dramatically erode Hong Kong's autonomy and the system that made it so prosperous," they said.
Some observers said they were surprised Australia had agreed to sign a joint statement with the US rather than distancing itself from Washington, given Beijing's view that Canberra had acted on Donald Trump's orders by calling for a coronavirus inquiry.
However, it seems Australia is not ready to follow the US lead on sanctions. The Trump government is reportedly considering a range of measures to punish China for its move on Hong Kong, including controls on transactions and visa restrictions for some officials. On Friday, Mr Morrison said Australia had been clear in expressing concern about a "departure" from the "one country, two systems" principles, but that sanctions against officials from China were not under consideration.
"We have expressed our view. We have expressed it I think in a very diplomatic and I think courteous way," he said.
"I think it's an observation which is very fair and very reasonable."
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade officials are working to provide assistance to Australians living in Hong Kong.
Labor's foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong said the national security law was very worrying.
"The decision to ignore Hong Kong’s legislative authority diminishes Hong Kong’s autonomy and democratic freedoms guaranteed under Article 23 of the Basic Law," she said in a statement.
"This directly undermines the one country, two systems arrangement to which Beijing is legally bound under the UN-registered Sino-British Joint Declaration.
"Beijing’s actions risk this stability and erode trust at a time when countries should be working together to end the pandemic. The Chinese government must honour its commitment to the people of Hong Kong and the international community to uphold the city's rights and freedoms."
'Only the beginning'
Protesters returned to the streets of Hong Kong this week as pro-democracy leaders condemned the security laws they said would allow China to stamp out freedom of speech and arrests the Communist Party's critics. Friday was relatively quiet with small crowds gathering in a shopping mall to chant slogans.
The city's pro-Beijing and pro-democracy politicians were bitterly divided over China's move.
"They will send down cadres from the Chinese Communist Party to supervise the government, the executive, the legislature, and more importantly – judiciary. This is only the beginning, I tell you," Martin Lee, the 82-year-old founder of Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement, said on Friday.
Former chief executive Leung Chun-ying, also known as CY Leung, called for a boycott of HSBC bank accounts because of its British ownership.
US President Donald Trump was expected to announce on Friday night (AEST) what action Washington was prepared to take over China's move on Hong Kong. The US has threatened to revoke Hong Kong's trading privileges because it was no longer considered autonomous from China.
Dominic Raab, British Foreign Secretary, said Britain would recognise the status of Hong Kong citizens issued with British national overseas (BNO) passports before the handover so they could come to the United Kingdom for longer than six months – a pathway to eventual citizenship. This would apply to more than 300,000 people.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews defended the state's controversial agreement with China on its belt and road initiative on Friday and supported Australia's position on Hong Kong but said that was a matter of foreign policy.
"We have a relationship with China I think is very important," Mr Andrews said. "What I support is Victorian jobs. There's never been more Victorian-made product sent to China, exported to China, sold to China today, than at any point today in this state's history."