China has issued a stern warning to Australia over plans to consider giving Hong Kong nationals safe haven visas.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said cabinet would consider options after the United Kingdom opened a path to citizenship for millions of Hong Kong residents under threat from draconian security laws.
The new laws criminalise secession, subversion and collusion with foreign forces.
Mr Morrison said he was prepared to ‘‘step up and provide support’’ for Hong Kong citizens who wish to come to Australia.
The PM’s statements have inflamed tensions, with the Chinese foreign ministry urging Australia to look at the national 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,” spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters.
Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said Australia had similar perspectives to the UK about Hong Kong.
“We support the one country, two systems structure that was put in place,” he told ABC television on Friday.
“We want to see respect for the basic law that underpins the way in which Hong Kong works as a unique but very important part of China.”
Australia could fast track skilled migrant visas for Hong Kong nationals or offer safe haven through the refugee program.
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese also expressed serious concerns about the security laws.
“The legislation that has been imposed is a breach of the handover agreement between Great Britain and the People’s Republic of China with regard to Hong Kong,” Mr Albanese said.
“It was supposed to be one country, two systems. The second system was democracy. The freedom of the press, freedom of association. And those principles are important.”
Mr Zhao lashed Britain over its plan to provide a path to citizenship for Hong Kongers with UK overseas national status.
“This is a serious breach of its own commitment and grave violation of international law and basic norms of international relations,” he said.
“China strongly condemns this and reserves the right of further reactions, the consequences of which shall be borne by the British side.”