Australians living in and travelling to China may be arbitrarily detained, the Department of Foreign Affairs has warned as the relationship between the two countries deteriorates. Australia has raised the alarm for its citizens travelling to China, maintaining that they will be subject to detentions.
Sky News host Paul Murray says ALP support for China remains strong despite the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on Tuesday warning Australians they could be “at risk of arbitrary detention” by the communist regime.https://t.co/EQxzxfpozX— Sky News Australia (@SkyNewsAust) July 7, 2020
The upgraded travel advice on Tuesday follows a similar warning for Hong Kong last week after Beijing implemented sweeping new national security laws designed to prevent and punish attempts to undermine the Chinese state.
Rising tensions between two giants
DFAT on Thursday told up to 100,000 Australians living in Hong Kong and those planning on travelling to the Chinese territory that new laws could be interpreted broadly. Residents have been warned by Hong Kong police that pro-independence chants, flags and as of Tuesday – blank pieces of paper raised in defiance – could be in violation of the new legislation.
“You can break the law without intending to,” the department said. “The maximum penalty under this law in Hong Kong is life imprisonment.”
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China maintains the new Hong Kong laws are necessary to put an end to 15 months of protests over Beijing’s increasing influence in the former British colony and restore business confidence. Already strained bilateral relations between Australia and China have declined further during the coronavirus after trade strikes on beef, barley, students and tourists followed Australia’s calls for an independent inquiry into the origins of COVID-19 and its public concerns over the future of Hong Kong.
Australia warns citizens against travelling to China
Australia warned its citizens Tuesday they could face “arbitrary detention” if they travel to China, the latest sign of growing tensions between the two nations.
The foreign ministry issued the warning in updated travel advice, which also noted that Chinese authorities had detained foreigners for allegedly “endangering national security”.
Australia has already told its citizens to avoid all international travel due to the coronavirus pandemic, and the updated advice did not raise the overall level of the warning against travel to China.
“Authorities have detained foreigners because they’re ‘endangering national security’. Australians may also be at risk of arbitrary detention,” the latest warning said.
The warning came days after the foreign ministry cautioned Australians about the possibility of running afoul of controversial new security laws enacted by China in Hong Kong.
China’s foreign ministry said in response that “foreigners in China have absolutely nothing to worry about as long as they abide by the law.”
Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters that China hoped Australia would “remain objective and fair and do more to benefit the development of China-Australia relations”.
Tension between Australia and its biggest trading partner has been rising for months, and flared recently after Beijing reacted furiously to Canberra’s leading role in calls for a probe into the origins of the coronavirus.
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Beijing subsequently imposed tariffs on Australian goods and warned Chinese tourists and students about visiting the country because of alleged racial harassment against Asians.
Last year China arrested Australian-Chinese writer Yang Hengjun, who was indicted earlier this year for espionage.
China has also arrested two Canadians after Canada detained a high-profile executive of Chinese telecom giant Huawei in late 2018.
Ottawa has condemned those arrests as “arbitrary”.
Nosediving Australia-China relations
Relations between China and Australia have frayed considerably since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, with both countries at loggerheads over China’s handling of the initial outbreak in Wuhan.
Most recently Australia enraged China by calling for an investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.
But Canberra has also pushed back against what it describes as China’s economic “coercion”, covert influence campaigns and the use of technology companies like Huawei as a tool of intelligence gathering and geopolitical leverage.
China has warned its students and tourists against going to Australia, slapped trade sanctions on Australian goods and sentenced an Australian citizen to death for drug trafficking.
Last year Australia’s parliament, political parties and universities were targeted by state-backed cyberattacks, with China seen as the likely culprit.
Australia’s allegations that China carries out arbitrary detentions is the latest news in a series of tit-for-tat moves between the two states.
GVS News Desk with additional input from AFP and other sources.
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