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Australia Suspends Extradition Treaty With Hong Kong; Offers 10,000 Visas to Students, Skilled Workers

Anti-national security law protesters throw mock paper money during a march against national security law at the anniversary of Hong Kong's handover to China from Britain, in Hong Kong, China July 1, 2020. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu/Files

Anti-national security law protesters throw mock paper money during a march against national security law at the anniversary of Hong Kong's handover to China from Britain, in Hong Kong, China July 1, 2020. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu/Files

The move came after Chinese President Xi Jinping last month signed a controversial legislation to impose a national security law in Hong Kong that allowed Beijing to crackdown against dissent, criminalising sedition and curtailing protests with punishments up to life in prison.

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Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Thursday announced the suspension of Australia's extradition treaty with Hong Kong over the controversial Chinese national security law imposed there and offered visas to 10,000 students and temporary skilled workers from the former British territory to start a new life in this country.

The move came after Chinese President Xi Jinping last month signed a controversial legislation to impose a national security law in Hong Kong that allowed Beijing to crackdown against dissent, criminalising sedition and curtailing protests with punishments up to life in prison.

Morrison said the new national security laws imposed by China in Hong Kong represented a "fundamental change of circumstances" for many governments around the world.

"Our decision to suspend the extradition agreement with Hong Kong represents an acknowledgement of the fundamental change of circumstances in relation to Hong Kong because of the new security law, which in our view undermines the 'one country, two systems' framework, and Hong Kong's own basic law and the high degree of autonomy guaranteed in the Sino-British Joint Declaration that was set out there," Morrison said in Canberra.

Hong Kong is governed under the principle of "one country, two systems", under which China has agreed to give the region a high degree of autonomy and to preserve its economic and social systems for 50 years from the date of the handover.

The former British colony became a special administrative region of China on July 1, 1997, when Britain's 99-year lease of the New Territories, north of Hong Kong island, expired.

The new national security law imposed last week following violent anti-government protests in Hong Kong in 2019 makes secessionist, subversive, or terrorist activities illegal, as well as foreign intervention in the city's internal affairs.

Morrison said immigration has been a pillar of the strength of Australia and it has been a very welcoming country to such people from all around the world.

He said the Australian government will also extend Hong Kong-based businesses to relocate to the country and prioritise highly skilled applicants through existing streams from the Chinese territory.

"As a result of the changes that have occurred in Hong Kong, that there will be citizens of Hong Kong who may be looking to move elsewhere, to start a new life somewhere else, to take their skills, their businesses and things that they have been running under the previous set of rules and arrangements in Hong Kong, and seek that opportunity elsewhere," he said.

"It has the best controls, it has the best targeting, it has the best focus, and immigration as a result has been a pillar of the strength of our nation, not just our economy but our society as well," he said.

Morrison, who last week said he was disturbed by the crackdowns on protesters in Hong Kong, highlighted Australia's long history of attracting Hong Kong's best and brightest who have contributed to the economic growth and job creation.

"We are committed to ensuring this is further strengthened. That's why Australia will introduce new measures for students, temporary graduates and skilled workers from Hong Kong who want to live, work and study in Australia," he said.

Morrison said the new visa arrangements will provide further opportunities for Hong Kong passport holders to remain in Australia, with pathways to permanent residency. There are approximately 10,000 citizens of Hong Kong in Australia, according to media reports.

"There are almost 10,000 existing temporary skilled, temporary graduate and student visa holders in Australia who will be eligible for these special arrangements, with a further 2,500 outside Australia and 1,250 applications on hand," Morrison added.

He also said former students already on a temporary graduate visa will be eligible for an extension of five years effective Thursday.

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