Commentary on Political Economy

Tuesday, 7 July 2020


New DFAT travel warning for Australians going to China

Chinese President Xi Jinping. Picture: Getty
Chinese President Xi Jinping. Picture: Getty
The Morrison government has updated its travel advice for China, warning Australians may be at risk of “arbitrary detention” if they travel to the Asian nation amid a deterioration in bilateral ties. 
It follows the arrest this week of Xu Zhangrun — a prominent critic of President Xi Jinping with close ties to Australia — after the academic published an essay accusing the Chinese Communist party of “ruling tyrannically” and failing in its response to the coronavirus pandemic.
In a fresh update to the Smart Traveller website on Tuesday, DFAT added further detail to its existing warning against overseas travel, declaring Australians should not travel to China as Beijing has detained foreigners for allegedly “endangering national security”.


“If you’re already in China, and wish to return to Australia, we recommend you do so as soon as possible by commercial means,” the advice now reads. “Authorities have detained foreigners because they’re ‘endangering national security’.
“Australians may also be at risk of arbitrary detention.”
A coronavirus-related travel ban is already in place for Australians wanting to go overseas.
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Tensions between Beijing and Canberra have reached boiling point in recent months and were exacerbated after Scott Morrison called for a global inquiry into China’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last week, China hit out at the Prime Minister’s offer of safe haven to Hong Kong nationals fleeing the mainland’s security crackdown, warning Australia not to go down the “wrong path”.
It comes after Mr Morrison said federal cabinet would consider a number of proposals on how to best help Hong Kong nationals looking to relocate to Australia following the roll-out of new legislation outlawing criticism of China. The cabinet meeting is due to go ahead on Wednesday.
The legislative change prompted DFAT to issue a similar travel warning last Thursday, telling the 100,000 Australians living in Hong Kong and those planning on travelling to the Chinese territory that the laws could be interpreted “broadly”.
“You can break the law without intending to,” the department said. “The maximum penalty under this law in Hong Kong is life imprisonment.”
The advice says there’s an increased possibility of demonstrations in Hong Kong due to the controversial laws, which could turn into violent clashes.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has already moved to provide paths to UK citizenship to up to three million Hong Kong British nationals who may flee.
Mr Morrison has confirmed he is looking at offering “similar opportunities” in Australia.
“The basic law and the safeguards that were put in place with the handover, we would expect to be upheld,” Mr Morrison said.
“I think that’s a very reasonable position and a very consistent position for the Government … there are proposals that I asked to be brought forward several weeks ago.”
In a further ratcheting up of tensions, China last month issued Australian actor-turned serial entrepreneur Karm Gilespie a death sentence seven years after he was arrested on drug trafficking charges.
Chinese lawyers told The Australian at the time they believed the decision was linked to the parlous state of the bilateral relationship.
Mr Gilespie, 55 — a stage actor who once had a recurring role on Australian police show Blue Heelers — was arrested with 7.5kg of the drug ice in his luggage at Guangzhou Baiyun Airport in December 2013, according to reports by Chinese media.
At the end of last year, 62 Australians were under arrest in China, most on charges of drug trafficking or fraud.
Recently arrested academic Xu Zhangrun — who completed his PHD at Melbourne University in 2000 — courted controversy in February after he published an essay blaming Mr Xi’s “culture of deception and censorship” for the spread of the coronavirus in the nation.
He wrote China is “led by one man only, but this man is in the dark and rules tyrannically, with no method for governance, though he is skilled at playing with power, causing the entire country to suffer”.
In the most significant shift in the nation’s military posture in decades, Mr Morrison last week announced a $270bn 10-year defence plan including “lethal” naval and air warfare capability as well as the first land-based long-range missile defence systems.

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