Australia on Thursday offered protections for Hong Kongers living in the country in response to China’s imposition of a tough national security law for the territory.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said his government was suspending its extradition agreement with Hong Kong and offering thousands of Hong Kongers in Australia on temporary visas a pathway to permanent residency.
He said the decisions were taken because the security law “constitutes a fundamental change of circumstances,” adding that Beijing and Hong Kong authorities had been notified of the plans.
China slammed Australia’s decision as “gross interference” in its affairs.
“China strongly deplores and opposes the groundless accusations and measures announced by the Australian government with regard to Hong Kong,” said a statement from a spokesperson at China’s embassy in Canberra.
Morrison’s announcement came a day after China opened a new office in Hong Kong for its intelligence agents to oversee implementation of the law imposed last week targeting acts of subversion, secession, terrorism and foreign collusion.
The law is the most radical change in Hong Kong’s freedoms and autonomy since Britain handed the city back to China in 1997.
Morrison said about 10,000 Hong Kong citizens and residents in Australia on student or temporary work visas would be allowed to remain in the country for an additional five years regardless of the expiry date on their current visas.
“If you’re a temporary visa holder, your visa will be extended to an additional five years from today, in addition to the time you’ve already been in Australia, with a pathway to permanent residency at the end of that period,” he said.
“And we will also provide a five-year visa with a pathway to permanent residency for future Hong Kong applicants for temporary skilled visas, subject to meeting an updated skills list and appropriate marking.”
Shortly before Morrison’s announcement, Australia’s foreign ministry warned its citizens in Hong Kong of the risk of detention under the new security law, which it called “vaguely defined.”
It urged Australian nationals to “reconsider your need to remain in Hong Kong” if they have concerns about the new law.