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Australia suspends Hong Kong extradition deal in swipe at China

[CANBERRA] Australia is suspending its extradition agreement with Hong Kong and will give skilled migrants from the city five-year visas with a pathway to permanent residence, after China imposed sweeping national security legislation on the financial hub.

"Our decision to suspend the extradition agreement with Hong Kong represents an acknowledgment of the fundamental change of circumstances in relation to Hong Kong because of the new security law," Prime Minister Scott Morrison said at a briefing in Canberra on Thursday.

Mr Morrison said Australia had formally notified Hong Kong and advised Chinese authorities. His announcement which swiftly earned a strong rebuke from Beijing's embassy in Canberra came after Canada suspended its extradition agreement with the former British colony last week, making it the first country to break law enforcement links with the city since China enacted the legislation.

Other nations with extradition links with Kong Kong include the Southeast Asian countries of Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia, which have all clashed with China in recent years over its territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Beyond the region, Hong Kong has extradition treaties with nations including the US, India, Germany and New Zealand. The latter on Thursday announced it would review all its policy settings with Hong Kong due to the security law.

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Though China remains Australia's largest trading partner, Mr Morrison's moves have fueled tensions between the two countries. Australia said earlier Thursday that its citizens in Hong Kong were at an increased risk of detention, saying the security law could be interpreted broadly.

"China strongly deplores and opposes the groundless accusations and measures announced by the Australian government with regard to Hong Kong, which is a serious violation of international law and basic norms governing international relations," its embassy in Canberra said in a statement on its website.

"The Australian side has been clanking that they oppose ‘foreign interference,'" the embassy said. "However they have blatantly interfered in China's internal affairs by making irresponsible remarks on Hong Kong related issues. Its hypocrisy and double standard is exposed in full."

In another move that could aggravate Beijing, Mr Morrison said his government will be actively seeking to lure Hong Kong-based businesses to relocate to Australia.

"There'll be citizens of Hong Kong who may be looking to move elsewhere, to start a new life somewhere else, to take their skills, their businesses, and things that they've been running under the previous set of rules and arrangements in Hong Kong and seek that opportunity elsewhere," Mr Morrison said. "Australia has always been a very welcoming country to such people."

Relations between the two nations have become increasingly fraught since 2018, when Mr Morrison's government banned Chinese technology giant Huawei Technologies from building its 5G network on national security grounds. That year, it also said Beijing's "meddling" was a catalyst for legislation designed to halt foreign interference in its governments, media and education sector.

Since April when Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne called for independent investigators be allowed into the mainland city of Wuhan to probe Covid-19's origins, China has imposed crippling tariffs on Australia's barley industry, halted beef imports from four meat plants and urged its tourists and students to avoid going to Australia citing a risk of racist attacks.

"We advise the Australian side to look at the national security legislation in Hong Kong in a correct and objective light, stop interfering in China's internal affairs with Hong Kong as a pretext, and refrain from going further down the wrong path," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said July 2 in response to a question on the possibility of Australia offering Hong Kong citizens a safe haven.

Beijing has also been irked by Ms Payne's statements against Hong Kong's new national security law, which she's labeled "deeply" concerning, following criticism from other foreign governments including the US and UK.


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