Five Eyes Nations Draw Fury From China by Pushing Back on Hong Kong Law

China has attacked Australia for offering a safe haven to Hong Kongers wishing to flee the new national security law imposed on the territory by Beijing earlier this month.

On Thursday, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced visa extensions for Hong Kongers in Australia and offered a pathway for them to achieve permanent residency. He did not, however, create a new special humanitarian pathway for those fearing persecution. Some 10,000 people are expected to be eligible.

Morrison also said Australia would freeze its extradition treaty with Hong Kong, as Canada did last week. The prime minister said the national security law "constitutes a fundamental change of circumstances."

Australia is the latest democratic nation to take action in response to the national security law, which pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong say marks the end of the city's relative political freedoms.

The Chinese embassy in Australia condemned the announcement Thursday, accusing Morrison of meddling in its domestic affairs—a charge repeatedly leveled against foreign nations protesting the national security law and other human rights abuses in Hong Kong.

An embassy spokesperson said Beijing "strongly deplores and opposes the groundless accusations and measures announced by the Australian government."

"The Australian side has been clanking that they oppose 'foreign interference'," the statement 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."

The spokesperson urged Australia "to immediately stop meddling in Hong Kong affairs and China's internal affairs under any pretext or in any way, otherwise it will lead to nothing but lifting a rock only to hit its own feet."

The national security law criminalizes the broadly defined crimes of subversion, sedition, terrorism and foreign collusion. In effect, the legislation bans criticism of or opposition to the Chinese Communist Party, threatening offenders with extradition to Chinese courts and life in prison.

The Sino-British Joint Declaration that governed Hong Kong's 1997 handover from British to Chinese rule dictated that the territory's market economy and way of life would be preserved until at least 2047. This afforded Hong Kongers more political freedom than their mainland compatriots.

But critics say the national security law has fatally undermined this status quo, which has come to be known as the "one country, two systems" agreement. The Chinese government has dismissed such complaints, arguing that the law is required to ensure stability in the restive city and prevent foreign meddling.

The Anglosphere "Five Eyes" intelligence-sharing group—the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia and New Zealand—has been at the forefront of the global push back against the national security law.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne tweeted Wednesday that she held a call with Five Eyes allies on Hong Kong and the national security law. She said the legislation "undermines One Country Two Systems & trust in international agreements. We will work together for human rights & freedoms."

The U.S. has introduced sanctions on CCP officials and revoked Hong Kong's preferential trading status; the U.K. announced a residency pathway that could allow up to 3 million Hong Kongers to settle there; Canada suspended its extradition treaty with Hong Kong and froze military exports to the territory, and New Zealand has said it will "review" its relationship with Beijing.

Five Eyes interventions have prompted fury in Beijing, with CCP representatives abroad issuing fierce condemnations and threats against their host nations. On Tuesday, China's ambassador to Canada Cong Peiwu said Canadians should "wait and see" what retaliation Beijing would settle on.

In the U.K., ambassador Liu Xiaoming said: "We want to be your friend. We want to be your partner. But if you want to make China a hostile country, you will have to bear the consequences."

The embassy in New Zealand, meanwhile, warned the government to "stop interfering in Hong Kong affairs and China's internal affairs, and do more to promote the sound and steady development of the China-New Zealand relations."

U.S.-China enmity pre-dated the national security law and has dominated President Donald Trump's time in office. But the suppression of dissent in Hong Kong combined with the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has further undermined bilateral relations.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Thursday that the U.S. should adopt "a more rational and pragmatic China policy," warning that while Beijing does not seek confrontation it will defend itself and its interests if necessary. "China will not and cannot become another America," Wang told a virtual forum.

Hong Kong, China, Australia, US, Five Eyes
Police remove a woman holding a U.S. flag from outside the U.S. consulate during a march to celebrate U.S. Independence Day in Hong Kong on July 4, 2020. ISAAC LAWRENCE/AFP via Getty Images/Getty