Australia suspends Hong Kong extradition treaty after Beijing’s imposition of national security law

Foreign Affairs

Following Canada’s lead, Australia suspended its extradition treaty with Hong Kong, citing a “fundamental change of circumstances” with the new national security law. Australia also offered extended visas to nearly 14,000 Hongkongers.

scott morrison, the prime minister of australia, and alan tudge, the acting immigration minister, speak at a news conference on july 9 about the australian government's decision to suspend extradition to hong kong, following a national security law imposed on the territory by beijing
Alan Tudge, the acting Australian immigration minister, and Prime Minister Scott Morrison at a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra, Thursday, July 9, 2020. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

As recently as three years ago, the Australian government was considering signing an extradition treaty with mainland China. That proposal was shelved in March 2017, and today, few Western countries have formal agreements to send criminal suspects to China.

Up until a week ago, Hong Kong was a different story. The territory was widely seen to have a judicial system that was independent enough from Beijing’s Communist Party–controlled courts that many countries, including Australia, Canada, and the U.K., were comfortable extraditing criminal suspects to Hong Kong.

When Beijing imposed its national security law on Hong Kong last week, Canada withdrew its extradition treaty with Hong Kong within days. Chinese officials have made clear that suspects arrested under the national security law in Hong Kong will be tried in the mainland.

Australia has now followed suit, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison saying that the national security law constituted a “fundamental change of circumstances,” per AFP. Hours earlier, Australia’s foreign ministry warned Australians in Hong Kong that they “may be at increased risk of detention on vaguely defined national security grounds,” and advised them to “reconsider your need to remain in Hong Kong.”

Australia has also offered “a five-year extension” to visas to nearly 14,000 Hongkongers, per the Guardian:

The prime minister announced on Thursday that Australia would allow a range of visa holders to stay in the country for longer and then offer them a pathway to permanent residency — but has stopped short of creating a special humanitarian intake for Hongkongers fearing persecution under the new national security law.

The government said almost 10,000 temporary skilled, graduate and student visa holders in Australia would be eligible for the special arrangements, along with a further 2,500 outside Australia and 1,250 applications on hand. There are also opportunities for future applicants and attempts to attract entrepreneurs.

That does not go as far as the U.K.’s offer of a path to citizenship for about 3 million Hongkongers, though the Guardian notes that Australia’s cancellation of extradition “puts pressure on the UK, which has stopped short of ending its extradition agreement with the territory.”

New Zealand is also now reviewing its policies toward Hong Kong, according to a statement by Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters, who, similar to Scott Morrison, noted the national security law had “fundamentally changed the environment for international engagement” with the territory.

Beijing’s reaction

Beijing framed disengagement from Hong Kong by both Australia and Canada as interference in China’s internal affairs, and claimed that both countries had violated unspecified international laws.

  • The Chinese Embassy in Australia harshly condemned what it called “groundless accusations and measures” by the Australian government. The embassy spokesperson added that Australia had “blatantly interfered in China’s internal affairs by making irresponsible remarks on Hong Kong,” and compared Australia’s actions to “lifting a rock only to hit its own feet.”
  • Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhào Lìjiān 赵立坚 “strongly condemned” Australia’s move, said that the country’s “comments and measures are in serious violation of international law,” and added that China would “reserve the right to make further reaction.”

Separately, the Chinese ambassador to Canada, Cóng Péiwǔ 丛培武, told The Star that Canadians should “just wait and see” what “consequences” Canada would bear for “interfering in China’s internal affairs” by suspending its extradition treaty with Hong Kong and ending the export of military-related goods to the territory. Earlier, Zhao Lijian had also accused Canada of violating unspecified international laws.