Hong Kong groups call upon Australia to allow students to stay, reconsider free trade agreement
5th Oct 2019
Several groups representing the Hong Kong Chinese community in Australia have called upon Scott Morrison’s Government to allow Hongkongers to remain in Australia “unconditionally” in light of ongoing unrest in the semi-autonomous territory.
- Pro-democracy groups have called for Hongkongers to remain in Australia
- They say an Australia-Hong Kong FTA should also be postponed
- Local campuses have seen clashes over Hong Kong
As protests opposing the enactment of emergency laws grew violent on Friday night, the groups urged the Government to postpone a pending free trade agreement with Hong Kong.
They also called for Australian citizens in Hong Kong to be evacuated and for Magnitsky sanctions to be used against Hong Kong officials involved in the suppression of human rights.
“We urge the Australian Government to reduce restrictions in relation to visa applications for Hongkongers, and to allow Hong Kong residents currently in Australia to unconditionally extend their stay until improvement is observed in the city’s unrest,” a statement provided to the ABC on Saturday said.
The move would mirror the actions of late prime minister Bob Hawke, who allowed thousands of Chinese students to remain in Australia after the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989.
Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam announced Friday that she would be enacting a colonial-era emergency law, granting the Government wide-ranging powers to crack down on unrest.
Ms Lam declared a ban on face masks, which have been used to protect protesters’ identities and shield from tear gas throughout anti-Beijing protests that have lasted more than four months.
“Due to this situation we hope the Australian Government can allow some students here to have their visas extended until the situation in our city can be settled,” Jane Poon, a member of the Hong Kong community in Melbourne, told the ABC.
“I’m afraid to go back to Hong Kong. Will I come back to Australia safely?”
The statement, signed by groups including Australia Hong Kong Link, NSW HongKongers, and Perth-Hongkong Students’ AntiELAB Concern Group, said that due to the “unstable and unpredictable economic environment” in Hong Kong, Australia should “postpone and reconsider” a pending free trade agreement (FTA).
“We urge the Australian Government to commence an evacuation operation of citizens in Hong Kong, as well as to call on all Australian enterprises to withdraw all funds from the city,” it said.
Australia’s two-way trade with the territory was worth $17.8 billion in 2018. Hong Kong is the country’s fifth-largest source of foreign investment.
The Australia-Hong Kong FTA was signed in March this year, but must still be ratified by Parliament and is under consideration of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade was contacted for comment but had not responded by time of publication.
Calls to suspend a pending FTA between Hong Kong and Australia echo those from trade unions.
“Given the escalating events taking place in Hong Kong, the ACTU calls on the Government to delay the enabling legislation,” Australian Council of Trade Unions president Michelle O’Neil said in August.
“At a time of growing international uncertainty around trade, it is important that Australia treads cautiously with regard to an agreement with a territory that is experiencing significant political upheaval and instability.”
Last month, pro-democracy Hong Kong student leaders warned of “another Tiananmen Square” during a visit to Australia, expressing concern for international students from Hong Kong.
Tensions between Hong Kong and mainland Chinese students on Australian campuses have spiked in the wake of the pro-democracy protests, resulting in heated confrontations at universities in Brisbane, Adelaide and Canberra.
Ms Poon added that the Australian Government should consider raising its travel alert for Hong Kong.
“It’s not safe for anyone now. For tourists, it’s definitely not safe,” she said.