The recent events surrounding China’s decision to enforce a new national security law on Hong Kong have sparked reactions from governments across the world.
Prime Minister of Australia Scott Morrison announced that Canberra will suspend extradition processes for citizens of Hong Kong who will also be eligible to have their Australian visas extended by 5 years.
What Is the Chinese National Security Law?
The new security law for Hong Kong was passed by China in 2020.
It is a legal framework for Hong Kong that is considered by many particularly strict. That is because since it was returned to China in 1997 and ceased to be a British colony, the Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong has generally enjoyed more relaxed regulations than mainland China and a local administration autonomous from the central government.
The Australian government advised its citizens currently planning to travel to Hong Kong regarding the possibility of misinterpreting the new security law: “You could break the law without intending to.”
Australian Visas for Hong Kong Citizens Will Be Extended
At the time of the Australian government’s announcement, around 100,000 Hongkongers were in Australia. Many of these hold temporary types of visas, meaning that they are on the island for a limited period of time after which they are expected to return to Hong Kong.
PM Scott Morrison explained that these foreign nationals will be able to apply for an extension of their visa of up to 5 years. This will effectively open the path to Australian permanent residency (and then, citizenship) for Hong Kong passport holders.
The extraordinary extension will apply, for example, to those who hold a student or skilled visa. Morrison specified that the extension will also remain available for Hong Kong citizens who will apply for an Australian visa in the future, should the visa application be successful. The visa requirements and the application and approval processes will not change.
The Prime Minister recognized that the new Chinese law may urge people of Hong Kong to relocate and suggested Hongkongers to move their businesses to Australia, highlighting how the country has always been a “great immigration nation.”
Suspension of extradition for Hong Kong citizens
Until now, Australia and Hong Kong have had an extradition agreement in place.
However, Morrison explained that the Chinese decision of enforcing the national security law “constitutes a fundamental change of circumstances” with respect to the agreement. Therefore, the extradition treaty will be suspended.
The Prime Minister confirmed that the Chinese authorities have been formally informed of the Australian decision.
International Reactions to the Chinese Security Law for Hong Kong
Australia is not alone within the international community in reacting to the implementation of the Chinese national security law.
The United Kingdom was first to announce that it would open a special path to citizenship for Hongkongers who were born before 1997. That covers around 3 million people who are eligible to obtain a British National Overseas passport.
Canada decided to suspend the extradition treaty with Hong Kong. About 20 countries around the world have similar agreements in place and many do not allow extradition to China due to human rights concerns.
Taiwan stated that it will welcome Hongkongers wishing to relocate and established a special office for this purpose.
New Zealand is also considering steps to take in relation to the new security law and the overall relationship with Hong Kong. Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Winston Peterson stated:
“China’s decision to pass a new national security law for Hong Kong has fundamentally changed the environment for international engagement there […] This will be a deliberate, considered review across all of our settings, including extradition arrangements, controls on exports of strategic goods, and travel advice.”
The Chinese embassy’s comments on the Australian decision
These decisions have caused diplomatic tension between China and several countries.
The Chinese embassy in Australia commented: “We urge the Australian side to immediately stop meddling in Hong Kong affairs and China’s internal affairs.”
Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, stated that Australia’s announcements “seriously violated international law and the basic norms of international relations.”