Violence has broken out in Australia. Citizens and students are afraid for the safety of their families and Australians are being told it is not their problem.The tensions between Beijing and Hong Kong have heated up with weeks of protests following the proposal of a controversial Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance Matters Legislation (Amendment) Bill 2019 - “The Extradition Bill” - which suggested Hong Kong citizens being charged could be prosecuted in Beijing.
Now, weeks after the treaty has been indefinitely suspended in the Legislative Council, protests continue and have overflowed into the cities and campuses of Australia.
It was inevitable that Australia would end up sandwiched in the middle of this conflict.
Australia’s population is significantly made up of those heralding from Chinese and Hong Kong population. This presence is only exacerbated by the high levels of international students hailing from both Hong Kong and the People’s Republic of China.
It is well known that China is a close economic partner for Australia, but Australia is also closely affiliated with Hong Kong. Hong Kong is its 12th largest trading partner, despite being a region of just over seven million people. Similarly, it is a hub for Australian businesses with approximately 600 major Australian business having branches in Hong Kong.
Since 1999 Australia has supported the “Basic Law” of Hong Kong in which China and Hong Kong operate on a “one country, two systems” principle. The proposed extradition bill was a blatant violation of this system, and an attempt to diminish the power of the Hong Kong judiciary system and has raised many in the international community to question China’s intention to follow through on agreements. Many, including, the Beijing’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs have expressed that the issue is only an “internal” matter and warned Australia and Australian politicians not to interfere.
However, it seems Australia is becoming more and more deeply involved as protest numbers and violent clashes rise and it is becoming harder not to see this as an international issue.
The outcry and attention that has been drawn to Hong Kong and Chinese nationalist protestors have also further raised concerns regarding Chinese surveillance and interference in Australia. There are increasing suspicions that Beijing is spying on Australian residents and international students.
These suspicions have recently been backed up by claims from the Federal Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee that Chinese influence is threatening Australian security.
Many, including Australian citizens and international students, are raising concerns that any involvement in the demonstrations could put them in danger of not being able to return to Hong Kong or concern for the safety of their families. It is alleged that Beijing is keeping a close eye on those coming to live, work or study in Australia. This would be a blatant disregard for Australia’s sovereignty and security.
At this stage, as the people of Hong Kong continue to demand autonomy and China refuses to respond; as Australia’s University campuses become hotbeds for international students to fight for their beliefs; as Australian police continue to quell rising clashes, it seems patently clear that this is not an internal issue.
It is an issue that impacts Australia, and one which, at some point will demand that Australia address it. Canberra has voiced support for the two systems “Basic Law” in the past and China is evidently trying to undermine this agreement. Australia needs to look beyond the Chinese economic partnership and stand by its beliefs and support of the Basic Law.
Grace Anderson is the Australian Foreign Policy Fellow for Young Australians in International Affairs.