CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Thursday his government was considering an offer of safe haven to Hong Kong residents threatened by China’s move to impose a tough national security law on the semi-autonomous territory.
Morrison said Cabinet would soon consider options “to provide similar opportunities” as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has offered Hong Kongers.
“When we have made a final decision on those arrangements, then I’ll make the announcements,” Morrison told reporters. “But if you’re asking: are we prepared to step up and provide support? The answer is: yes.”
Britain is extending residency rights for up to 3 million Hong Kongers eligible for British National Overseas passports, allowing them to live and work in the U.K. for five years.
Morrison said “we think that’s important and very consistent with who we are as a people and very consistent practically with the views that we’ve expressed.”
Australia could potentially offer Hong Kong residents temporary protection visas that allow refugees to live in the country for up to three years.
China bypassed Hong Kong’s Legislative Council to pass the sweeping legislation without public consultation.
Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said the laws threatened Hong Kong’s judicial independence and the rights and freedoms of its people.
The Chinese foreign ministry Zhao Lijian urged Australia to look at the security legislation in a “correct and objective” light.
“Stop interfering in China’s internal affairs with Hong Kong as a pretext, and refrain from going further down the wrong path,” Zhao told reporters in Beijing.
An offer of safe haven to Hong Kong residents would further strain relations between Australia and its most important trading partner, China.
“They have not positively contributed to Australia’s — or the region’s — security and stability,” Australian Defense Minister Linda Reynolds told a security think-tank.
“Australia has watched closely as China has actively sought greater influence in the Indo-Pacific,” she said. “Australia is far from alone in being troubled by this.”
Morrison on Wednesday announced 270 billion Australian dollars ($190 billion) in additional defense spending over the next decade, which will include long-range missiles and other capabilities to hold enemies further from its shores.