Australia has suspended its extradition agreement with Hong Kong, while issuing travel warnings and extending visas for Hong Kong residents already living in the country, in response to the imposition of China’s controversial national security law.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on Thursday afternoon that China’s recent enforcement of the law—which bans “secession”, "subversion" and "collusion with foreign forces" in Hong Kong—“constitutes a fundamental change in circumstance in respect to our extradition agreement”.
Previously, that bilateral agreement meant that criminals in Australia being sought by Hong Kong authorities could be extradited to that jurisdiction for prosecution, and vice versa. As Chinese authorities continue to exercise their power in Hong Kong, however, and with residents and visitors to the semi-autonomous region now subject to extradition to mainland China for a number of reasons, there are concerns that Australia could be implicated under a similar threat.
In a recent statement urging the Morrison government to re-examine its extradition agreement with Hong Kong, shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus noted that "extradition from Australia to Hong Kong now carries the real risk of extradition to mainland China.
"This is confirmed by the recent upgraded Hong Kong travel advice from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade,” the statement read. "It follows that it may now be untenable for Australia to maintain a separate extradition treaty with Hong Kong and, if so, the Government should take immediate steps to withdraw from that treaty."
Morrison confirmed on Thursday that the government had taken steps to do just that, and announced that student and temporary work visas for Hong Kongers in Australia would be extended by five years, with a pathway to permanent residency at the end of that period.
The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade also updated its travel advice, warning those already in Hong Kong to reconsider their need to remain there.
“The new national security legislation for Hong Kong could be interpreted broadly. Under the law, you could be deported or face possible transfer to mainland China for prosecution under mainland law,” the update reads. “The full extent of the law and how it will be applied is not yet clear. You may be at increased risk of detention on vaguely defined national security grounds. You could break the law without intending to.”
This follows a recent, similar warning from the government that Australians living in or travelling to China could face “arbitrary detention”.
In his announcement on Thursday, Morrison declared that “our decision to suspend the extradition agreement with Hong Kong represents an acknowledgement of the fundamental change of circumstances ... because of the new security law, which in our view … undermines the ‘one country two systems’ framework, Hong Kong’s own basic law, and the high degree of autonomy guaranteed in the Sino British Joint Declaration.”
“What we are announcing today, both with the extradition agreement [and] the update to our travel advice ... is recognising that that has taken place,” he added. “So Australia is adjusting its laws, our sovereign laws, our sovereign immigration program—things that we have responsibility for and jurisdiction over—to reflect the changes that we’re seeing take place there.”