A massive crowd of protesters under umbrellas leave an anti-government rally in Hong Kong's Victoria Park on August 18, 2019. Organizers estimated 1.7 million people turned out for the demonstration. Photo by Thomas Maresca/UPI | License Photo
July 9 (UPI) -- Australia said Thursday it will suspend its extradition treaty with Hong Kong and create a path to permanent residency for citizens from the former British colony with temporary visas in response to a draconian national security law Beijing imposed last week.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said during a press conference that Australia has formally notified Hong Kong and advised Chinese authorities of plans to end their extradition treaty, stating the new security law "constitutes a fundamental change of circumstances" in regards to Australia's relationship with Hong Kong.
"And so, Australia today has taken steps to formally suspend our extradition agreement with Hong Kong," he said.
Morrison added that because of the new law -- which criminalizes acts of secession, sedition, subversion, terrorism and working with foreign agencies to undermine the national security of China in Hong Kong -- that Australia has changed its immigration policies to create a path to permanent residency for Hongkongers holding temporary visas.
Some 10,000 Hong Kong residents currently in Australia had their temporary skilled-worker or students visas extended by five years on Thursday, Morrison said, adding that after that time they may apply for permanent residency.
The permanent residency offer will also be made to future visa applicants from Hong Kong with those working or studying in rural areas only having to wait three years instead of five, according to a statement from the Prime Minister's Office.
Australia will also put forth efforts to attract export-oriented Hong Kong businesses to its shores, Morisson said, describing Australia as a "great immigration nation."
"As a result of changes that have occurred in Hong Kong, there will be citizens of Hong Kong who may be looking to move elsewhere, to start a life somewhere else, to take their skills, their businesses and things they've been running under the previous set of rules and arrangements in Hong Kong and seek that opportunity elsewhere," he said.
The announcement came as the Australian government updated its travel advisory for Hong Kong advising Australians to not travel to the city stating neither the full extent of the new law nor how it will be applied is known and that "you may be at increased risk of detention on vaguely defined national security grounds."
China has faced widespread condemnation from Western nations and human rights groups over the new law as they say it violates the U.N.-filed agreement it made with Britain, which returned the city to Chinese rule in 1997, by reneging on its commitment to maintain Hong Kong's high degree of autonomy from mainland China for 50 years.
Critics say the law will spell the end of Hong Kong's autonomy, and several countries have already made moves in recognition.
Last week, Canada suspended its extradition treaty with Hong Kong and Britain created a pathway to citizenship for some 3 million Hong Kong residents who hold British national overseas passports and their families.
China responded Thursday, stating the moves by Australia were "a serious violation" of international norms, demanding it to "immediately stop meddling in Hong Kong affairs."
"Hong Kong affairs are China's internal affairs," China's Consulate-General in Sydney said in a statement. "The Australian side has been clanking that they oppose 'foreign interference.' However, they have blatantly interfered in China's international affairs by making irresponsible remarks on Hong Kong-related issues. Its hypocrisy and double standard is exposed in full."
China has repeatedly accused countries that condemn its new law or human rights record as "meddling" in its affairs, threatening to take retaliatory measures.
On Thursday, it urged Australia to stop interfering with China's internal affairs "otherwise it will lead to nothing but lifting a rock only to hit its own feet."
The new law went into effect at 11 p.m. on June 30, hours after it was passed by Beijing and after a year of pro-democracy protests that destabilized the once semi-autonomous region.
Since the law went into effect, some dozen people have been arrested under the new charges for waving flags or carrying signs, stickers and the like that espouse Hong Kong independence.