Prime Minister Scott Morrision on Thursday said Australia was “actively considering” an offer of safe haven to Hong Kong residents threatened by the imposition of a controversial security law by China that gave it sweeping powers over the former British territory.
Amidst global anger and outrage in Hong Kong, Chinese President Xi Jinping on Tuesday signed the legislation soon after lawmakers voted unanimously to adopt the law that will allow Beijing to crackdown against dissent, criminalising sedition and effectively curtailing protests with punishments up to life in prison.
Hong Kong police on Wednesday arrested 10 people under the law, which came into effect on Tuesday, as thousands of agitators defied tear gas and pepper pellets to protest against the legislation.
Prime Minister Morrison told reporters that he was disturbed by the crackdowns on protesters in Hong Kong. Replying to a question on if Australia would offer a safe haven for Hong Kong residents, he said, “We are considering (it) very actively and there are proposals that I asked to be brought forward several weeks ago.”
The prime minister said the Cabinet would soon consider “to provide similar opportunities” to what the UK has offered to Hong Kongers.
“When we have made a final decision on those arrangements I’ll make an announcement, but if you’re asking are we prepared to step up and provide support, the answer is yes,” Morrison said. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday held China in “clear and serious breach” of the Sino-British agreement under which Hong Kong had been handed over to the Chinese authorities and confirmed that a citizenship route will now be offered to Hong Kong’s British National (Overseas) passport holders.
The 50-year agreement, in effect, offers Hong Kong a “one country, two systems” principle, guaranteeing it the rights and freedoms that do not exist in mainland China.
Morrison said, “We think that’s important and very consistent with who we are as a people and very consistent practically with the views that we have expressed.”
He said the developments in Hong Kong were very concerning and Australia’s position was consistent with other like-minded countries, including the UK, the US and Canada.
In view of China moving ahead with the national security law, the US said it will stop exporting American-origin defence equipment and will take steps towards imposing the same restrictions on US defence and dual-use technologies to Hong Kong as it does for China’s mainland. Canada has updated its travel advice for Hong Kong, saying the new legislation could put Canadians at an increased risk.
“We do find these events very concerning and we have been very clear about our statements to that in concert with many other nations. This is not a position Australia has commented on in isolation. We have done so with many other like-minded countries about these events. The basic law and the safeguards that were put in place with the handover, we would expect to be upheld,” Morrison said.
In a statement on Wednesday, Foreign Minister Marise Payne said, “The eyes of the world will remain on Hong Kong.”
“Australia is troubled by the law’s implications for Hong Kong’s judicial independence, and on the rights and freedoms enjoyed by the people of Hong Kong, both of which underpin the city’s success,” she said.
China rejects criticism of its actions in Hong Kong, on what it says are internal matters.
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