Australia Suspends Hong Kong Extradition Deal in Swipe at China


Australia is suspending its extradition agreement with Hong Kong and will give skilled migrants from the city five-year visas with a pathway to permanent residence, after China imposed sweeping national security legislation on the financial hub.

“Our decision to suspend the extradition agreement with Hong Kong represents an acknowledgment of the fundamental change of circumstances in relation to Hong Kong because of the new security law,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said at a briefing in Canberra on Thursday.

Australia Suspends Hong Kong Extradition Deal in Swipe at China

Morrison said Australia had formally notified Hong Kong and advised Chinese authorities. His announcement -- which swiftly earned a strong rebuke from Beijing’s embassy in Canberra -- came after Canada suspended its extradition agreement with the former British colony last week, making it the first country to break law enforcement links with the city since China enacted the legislation.

Other nations with extradition links with Hong Kong include the Southeast Asian countries of Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia, which have all clashed with China in recent years over its territorial claims in the South China Sea. Beyond the region, Hong Kong has extradition treaties with nations including the U.S., India, Germany and New Zealand. The latter on Thursday announced it would review all its policy settings with Hong Kong due to the security law.

Though China remains Australia’s largest trading partner, Morrison’s moves have fueled tensions between the two countries. Australia said earlier Thursday that its citizens in Hong Kong were at an increased risk of detention, saying the security law could be interpreted broadly.

China said Thursday that Morrison’s moves “severely violated” international law and it reserved the right to take countermeasures.

“Any attempt to exert pressure on China will never succeed,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a daily news briefing in Beijing. “China urges the Australian side to immediately change course and stop interfering in Hong Kong affairs in any form so as to avoid further damage to China-Australia ties.”

In another move that could aggravate Beijing, Morrison said his government will be actively seeking to lure Hong Kong-based businesses to relocate to Australia.

“There’ll 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’ve 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.”

Fueling Tensions

Relations between the two nations have become increasingly fraught since 2018, when Morrison’s government banned Chinese technology giant Huawei Technologies Co. from building its 5G network on national security grounds. That year, it also said Beijing’s “meddling” was a catalyst for legislation designed to halt foreign interference in its governments, media and education sector.

Since April -- when Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne called for independent investigators be allowed into the mainland city of Wuhan to probe Covid-19’s origins -- China has imposed crippling tariffs on Australia’s barley industry, halted beef imports from four meat plants and urged its tourists and students to avoid going to Australia citing a risk of racist attacks.

“We advise the Australian side to look at the national security legislation in Hong Kong in a correct and objective light, stop interfering in China’s internal affairs with Hong Kong as a pretext, and refrain from going further down the wrong path,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said July 2 in response to a question on the possibility of Australia offering Hong Kong citizens a safe haven.

Beijing has also been irked by Payne’s statements against Hong Kong’s new national security law, which she’s labeled “deeply” concerning, following criticism from other foreign governments including the U.S. and U.K.

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson last week refused to back down after China warned of “consequences” if it pressed ahead with an offer of home for millions of Hong Kong residents. Johnson called the new law a “clear and serious breach” of the 1984 handover treaty between London and Beijing, which preceded the British colony being returned to China’s hands in 1997.

China hit back, questioning the U.K.’s right under the “joint declaration” treaty to make the offer to people in Hong Kong. “China strongly condemns that and reserves the right to make further reactions,” Zhao said. “All the consequences shall be borne by the U.K. side.”

The law “undermines the ‘one country, two systems’ framework and Hong Kong’s own Basic Law, and the high degree of autonomy guaranteed in the Sino-British Joint Declaration,” Morrison said.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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