The federal government has upgraded its travel advice for Hong Kong, urging Australians to “exercise a high degree of caution” if they plan to visit the troubled former colony.
“Protests have become more unpredictable and are expected to continue,” the government’s Smart Traveller website says.
“Tourist areas have been affected. There is a risk of violent confrontation between protesters and police, or criminally-linked individuals, particularly at unauthorised protests.”
We have raised our advice level for #HongKong: we now recommend you ‘exercise a high degree of caution’. Avoid large public gatherings. Monitor media and follow the advice of local authorities. https://t.co/tTCjY1N1ft
— Smartraveller (@Smartraveller) August 6, 2019
Foreign Minister Marise Payne said the upgraded advice was based on increasing violence in Hong Kong.
“I’m not saying don’t go, we’re saying monitor local media for signs of unrest, avoid protests and large gatherings because they are unpredictable,” she told 2GB on Wednesday.
The advice level is now on the second rung of a four-tier scale.
Australians have also been told the risks are greater at night and on weekends.
“We’ve been clearly urging Australians to avoid large public gatherings in recent weeks and most certainly read the travel advice when travelling to Hong Kong,” Senator Payne said.
On Tuesday, China warned it was “only a matter of time” before it punished those behind nearly three months of pro-democracy protests that have increasingly devolved into violent clashes with police and other authorities.
The protests began in response to Beijing’s plans to impose tough laws in the semi-autonomous state that would have allowed it to extradite Hong Kong residents to the mainland.
“We would like to make it clear to the very small group of unscrupulous and violent criminals and the dirty forces behind them: those who play with fire will perish by it,” Yang Guang, spokesman for the Chinese Cabinet’s Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office, said on Tuesday.
“Don’t ever misjudge the situation and mistake our restraint for weakness.”
The mayhem across Hong Kong has escalated further this week, starting with a general strike on Monday that paralysed the city’s roads, rail network and airport.
Protesters challenged law enforcement in at least eight districts on Monday, responding to continuous rounds of tear gas with practised swiftness.
Some started fires outside police stations and hurled bricks and eggs at officers.
Many rally participants chose to hide their identities because they fear official retribution.
China is yet to visibly intervene in the clashes between protesters and police, although it has strongly worded editorials in state media condemning “violent radicals” and the “foreign forces” for allegedly inflaming them.
Speculation has grown that the Communist Party-led central government will bring in the military to quell demonstrations after Chinese officials pointed out that Hong Kong law that allows troops already stationed in the city to help with “public order maintenance” at the Hong Kong government’s request.
Shenzhen #police drill attracted unusual attention as it features scenarios that resemble the ongoing riots in #HongKong. #香港 https://t.co/0HzpBmpLpp (Video: Shenzhen News Radio) pic.twitter.com/1pIH9ABWlO
— Global Times (@globaltimesnews) August 6, 2019
The Hong Kong army garrison and police in the city of Shenzhen, across the border, have both released videos recently of officers training to disperse groups of people dressed in black and wearing masks and construction helmets, as many of the Hong Kong protesters do.
Mr Yang and other Chinese officials have repeatedly accused protesters and organisers of seeking to wreck Hong Kong’s society and economy and of lacking patriotism.
Hong Kong police have said they arrested 568 demonstrators aged 13-76 since June. They have been charged with a variety of crimes, including rioting, which can carry a sentence of up to 10 years.