Australia’s plan to consider giving safe haven to Hong Kong nationals under threat from draconian security laws has inflamed tensions with China.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said cabinet would consider options after the United Kingdom opened a path to citizenship for millions of Hong Kong residents.
The new security laws criminalise secession, subversion and collusion with foreign forces.
The Chinese foreign ministry hit back, urging Australia to look at the national security legislation 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,” spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters.
Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said Australia had similar perspectives to the UK about Hong Kong.
“We support the ‘one country, two systems’ structure that was put in place,” he told ABC television on Friday, referring to the 1997 handover from the UK to Beijing.
“We want to see respect for the basic law that underpins the way in which Hong Kong works as a unique but very important part of China.”
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese has expressed serious concerns about the security laws.
“The legislation that has been imposed is a breach of the handover agreement between Great Britain and the People’s Republic of China with regard to Hong Kong,” he told reporters in southeast NSW.
“It was supposed to be one country, two systems. The second system was democracy. The freedom of the press, freedom of association. And those principles are important.”
Australia could fast track skilled migrant visas for Hong Kong nationals or offer safe haven through the refugee program.
Mr Zhao lashed Britain over its plan to provide a path to citizenship for Hong Kongers with UK overseas national status.
“This is a serious breach of its own commitment and grave violation of international law and basic norms of international relations,” he said.
“China strongly condemns this and reserves the right of further reactions, the consequences of which shall be borne by the British side.”