Australia has warned its citizens over travel to Hong Kong and suspended its extradition treaty with the territory in response to China’s imposition of a sweeping national security law on the city.
Scott Morrison, Australia’s prime minister, also said Canberra would extend visas for Hong Kong skilled workers and graduates by five years from Thursday.
“Under the law, you could be deported or face possible transfer to mainland China for prosecution under mainland law,” the Australian government said in an updated travel warning. “The full extent of the law and how it will be applied is not yet clear.”
The travel notice is among the toughest yet from western countries after China moved to introduce the law this month. The new measures allow authorities to punish loosely defined crimes such as subversion, campaigning for secession, terrorism and colluding with “external elements” to endanger national security.
China’s foreign ministry urged Canberra to reverse the travel advisory, which it said “seriously violated” international law. It added that China reserved the right to take unspecified countermeasures.
The move by Australia, which counts China as its biggest trading partner, came as Chinese state-owned media issued a stark warning to foreign organisations, diplomats and media in Hong Kong that they “should be frightened” of the new legislation.
On Wednesday, Chinese and Hong Kong officials held an opening ceremony for the city’s new Office for Safeguarding National Security, which has sweeping authority to implement the new law and immunity from the territory’s local regulations.
Beijing rushed through the measures following pro-democracy protests last year over a proposed extradition law that would have allowed criminal suspects to be sent to mainland China for the first time.
The new law allows the Hong Kong’s chief executive to handpick judges for national security trials, while “serious” or “complex” cases can be sent across the border to be tried in mainland courts under Chinese law.
Mr Morrison said the “national security law constitutes a fundamental change of circumstances in respect to our extradition agreement with Hong Kong”.
The prime minister added that there were about 10,000 Hong Kong citizens and residents in the country on student visas and temporary work visas.
Those on skilled worker and student visas would have their stays extended by five years with a pathway to permanent residency at the end of that period, he said. Australia would also provide new incentives for export-oriented Hong Kong businesses to relocate to the country.
On Thursday evening Mr Morrison held a video summit with Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, in which Mr Abe expressed “serious concern” about the passage of the national security law.
In a sign of how China’s assertive moves are provoking a response in the region, the two leaders issued a statement welcoming a deeper security relationship between Australia, Japan, the US and India, a grouping known as the Quad.
Winston Peters, New Zealand’s foreign minister and deputy prime minister, said the country would also be reviewing relations with Hong Kong, “including extradition arrangements, controls on exports of strategic goods, and travel advice”.
“China’s decision to pass a new national security law for Hong Kong has fundamentally changed the environment for international engagement there,” he said.
Marise Payne, Australia’s foreign minister, wrote in a tweet that she had held discussions on Thursday with other members of the “Five Eyes” security alliance, which includes the US, the UK, Canada and New Zealand, that touched on the national security law.
Dominic Raab, UK Foreign Secretary, tweeted: “We discussed the new national security law and the threat it poses to the basic rights & freedoms guaranteed under the Joint Declaration.”
Canada has already suspended its extradition treaty with Hong Kong and warned its citizens there was an “increased risk of arbitrary detention on national security grounds and possible extradition to mainland China” in the territory.
Ottawa’s concerns have been heightened following China’s arrest of two of its citizens in 2018 on national security grounds. Beijing made the arrests retaliation for the detention of Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Huawei, by Canadian authorities following a US extradition request.
In an article late on Wednesday, China’s state-owned Global Times accused “foreign forces” of using “their NGOs, shell companies and media outlets” to foment unrest in Hong Kong.
“Some of them even have diplomatic immunity,” said the article, which quoted an unnamed international expert. “But in the future, they should be careful when [they] play this old game. The reason why they are being unreasonably critical [of] the law is because they are nervous and frightened. They should be frightened.”
Additional reporting by Robin Harding in Tokyo