Australia should be a safehaven for Hongkongers

Just as the Fraser Government helped liberate refugees who fled Vietnam following the end of the Vietnam War, and as the Abbott Government offered the permanent settlement for 12,000 refugees escaping the tyrannical al-Assad regime, today Australia must continue our strong history of humanitarianism and offer the people of Hong Kong safe haven from the reach of the authoritarian Chinese Communist Party (CCP). 

Hong Kong has succeeded as one of the most successful cities in the world and secured its place as a global finance and commerce hub, largely because of its embrace of freedom. Like Australians, Hongkongers themselves are freedom loving people. Unlike their Chinese mainland counterparts, Hongkongers in law enjoy freedom of speech, press, and assembly; equality before the law in independent courts; privacy of communication; and freedom of religious beliefs and association.

It is these fundamental freedoms, enshrined in Hong Kong’s Basic Law, that are underpinned by the legally binding Sino-British Joint Declaration, signed by the United Kingdom and China in the handover of 1997. Since its signing and the establishment of the one country, two systems principle, Hongkongers have fought to protect their freedoms and level of independence from any who have sought to diminish them.Despite the protection of these rights in the Joint Declaration, Chinese authorities now publicly state that the agreement is ‘non-binding’ and has ‘no practical significance’. It is this disregard for the Joint Declaration that China has sought to capitalise on in its argument for increased dominance over Hong Kong. The latest attempt at further intervention are new draconian ‘national-security’ laws, which will place further restrictions and oversight from Beijing on Hong Kong and over its citizens, for what the CCP says is needed to tackle “terrorism” and “separatism”.The introduction and passing of the laws through the CCP’s rubberstamp National People’s Congress has seen a resurgence in the protests which began last year, and with an equally heavy crackdown on protesters by authorities.  The Australian Government joined other anglosphere nations; Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States, in a joint declaration of condemnation of the law. The communication reading in part “[[this law]] will curtail the Hong Kong people’s liberties, and in doing so, dramatically erode Hong Kong’s autonomy and the system that made it so prosperous.”

Despite the joint condemnation, and other continued international calls against China’s continuing escalation in the erosion of the rule of law and human rights in Hong Kong, Beijing has showed no sign of change and has continued on its path unabated. This reluctance to abide by international rulings and pressure from other nations is characteristic of the leadership of China by the CCP. Examples of China’s continuing disregard for human rights and evasion of international law is not isolated to Hong Kong. The mass detention and forced ‘re-education’ of over a million Uighurs in Xinjiang, its military escalation and disregard for international maritime law in the South China sea, and China’s continual threats of forceful action in Taiwan, show the nations attitude towards mounting global pressure.   This disregard for well-established international principals in human rights should be a warning to Australia and other nations that action should be taken now to stand up for Hong Kong and its people. Following the joint Anglo condemnation, British foreign secretary Dominic Rabb, announced that the UK was taking some of the first steps in extending the right to live and work in the UK to nearly 3 million Hong Kong citizens eligible for a British National Overseas passport. US secretary of state Mike Pompeo joined with Rabb in indicating that the US was considering letting Hongkongers reside in the United States as escalations in Hong Kong grow. While the UK and US are responding, Australia must hold its own in offering to assist in actively welcoming Hongkongers who fear for the end of their way of life, to our nation. 

While the ultimate goal of Australia should continue to be a positive and productive relationship with China, and the protection of human rights in Hong Kong, we can’t as a nation shy away from the upholding of our own views and values and the protection of those not just at home, but across the world. Embracing and working with our allies and friends who share these views, including those in East Asia, will be vital for progress. But if deterioration of the human rights of Hongkongers continues, we must be prepared to act, and support them in any way we can.



Clark Cooley is Federal Secretary of the Young Liberal Movement of Australia. 
The views and opinions expressed in article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Young Liberal Movement of Australia.