International pressure mounted on Beijing last night as western allies offered sanctuary to Hong Kong citizens, put sanctions on Chinese technology companies and acted against party officials involved in human rights abuses.
Australia followed the lead given by Britain in offering a haven to those wanting to flee Hong Kong after Beijing imposed a draconian security law targeting its critics. Last night the US placed sanctions on senior Communist party leaders involved in “the horrific and systematic abuses” against the Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in China’s Xinjiang province.
Beijing has threatened to jail anyone who dissents, expresses pro-independence sentiments or undermines the Chinese state in the former British colony or elsewhere. In response Britain extended an offer of residency and a pathway to citizenship to up to three million Hong Kong residents and their dependants with British National (Overseas) status.
Scott Morrison, the Australian prime minister, said that 10,000 Hong Kong citizens with skilled worker and graduate visas would be offered an immediate extension of five years and a pathway to permanent residency.
He added that Australia was suspending its extradition treaty to prevent dissenters from being recalled to Hong Kong and charged and sentenced within China’s opaque justice system.
Canada scrapped its extradition treaty with Hong Kong last week and banned the export of sensitive military items to the territory. New Zealand is reviewing its ties with Hong Kong, including extradition agreements, controls on exports of strategic goods and travel advice.
Winston Peters, the New Zealand foreign minister, said: “China’s decision to pass a new national security law for Hong Kong has fundamentally changed the environment for international engagement there.”
Britain discussed the implications of taking further action against China with the other members of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing network during a video meeting yesterday.
Shortly before the announcement, Australia’s foreign ministry urged its 100,000 citizens in Hong Kong to “reconsider your need to remain”. It warned of the risk of detention under the law, which it said was vaguely defined. Britain issued similar advice last week.
The actions drew an angry response from Beijing. “What the Australian side has done severely violated the international law and the basic principle of international relations, and grossly interfered with China’s internal affairs,” Zhao Lijian, a foreign ministry spokesman, said. “All consequences will be borne by Australia.”
The country’s relationship with China has deteriorated rapidly in recent weeks, with Beijing recalling Chinese students from Australian universities and imposing quotas on Australian beef and barley exports.
Mr Morrison appeared undaunted by the angry response, issuing a joint statement with his Japanese counterpart, Shinzo Abe, challenging Beijing’s moves to assert control over the strategic South China Sea.
Mr Morrison and Mr Abe condemned the “recent negative developments” in the sea, including the militarisation of disputed islands and the “dangerous and coercive use” of “maritime militia” against other nations’ vessels.
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Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, announced measures against the Chinese leaders whom America said were responsible for the abuse against the Uighurs, adding that “the United States will not stand idly”, and urging other countries to act.
The White House is finalising regulations barring the US government from buying goods or services from any company that uses products from five Chinese companies, including Huawei and the surveillance equipment sellers Hikvision and Dahua. Any company that uses equipment or services from these companies will no longer be able to sell to the US government without a waiver.
It is the latest effort by Washington to isolate the Chinese companies, which it accuses of rampant intellectual property theft as well as fealty to the Chinese government.
Britain is already reviewing plans to give Huawei a role in building its 5G mobile network amid security fears and restrictions caused by US sanctions.
Tensions between China and the US have reached their highest during a nearly two-year trade war, now exacerbated by Beijing’s clampdown on Hong Kong, its handling of the coronavirus outbreak, military expansionism and cyberattacks.
Russ Vought, acting director of the White House office of management and budget, said: “The danger our nation faces from foreign adversaries like China looking to infiltrate our systems is great.”