Hong Kong activist ‘welcome to campaign’ in exile in Australia

Former Hong Kong legislator Ted Hui moves from UK to Australia as China warns of further damage to already strained ties.

Former legislator from Hong Kong's pro-democracy opposition Ted Hui (centre) is considered a fugitive in the semi-autonomous city after he fled late last year after he was charged for participating in protests [File: Anthony Wallace/AFP]

Hong Kong former legislator and pro-democracy activist Ted Hui is welcome to campaign on political issues in Australia and his arrival was not a matter for China, the chair of the Australian parliament’s intelligence committee said on Thursday, angering Beijing, which warned of further damage to already strained ties between the two countries.

In the first comments from an official in the Australian government since Hui arrived from London on Monday, the Chairman of Parliament’s Committee on Intelligence and Security James Paterson said immigration policy was a “purely domestic sovereign issue” for Australia.

“Any visitor to Australia, whether they are a citizen or not, enjoys all the rights and freedoms that Australians enjoy. They enjoy freedom of speech, freedom of political campaign, so he is welcome to do that here,” Paterson, a senator, told ABC radio.

He added, “other visitors that have a different view to him are welcome to put their arguments too”.

Eric Abetz, a senator from Tasmania, who heads the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee, also expressed his support for Hui.

“Having recently talked with Ted Hui, it’s great to see him touch down in Australia and continue to fight for Hong Kong’s democracy,” he wrote on social media.

Anger in Beijing

Hui, who fled Hong Kong late last year after facing criminal charges over democracy protests said he moved from London to Australia to extend the reach of the pro-democracy movement’s international lobbying.

Australia has a large community of Hong Kong people but no leadership for the democracy movement, he said.

In a statement on Hui, the Chinese embassy in Australia said it “urges the Australian side to stop meddling in Hong Kong’s affairs and China’s internal affairs in any way. Otherwise the China-Australia relations will only sustain further damage”.

Hui was granted a tourist visa, an exemption to Australia’s closed-border policy and government assistance to secure seats for his family on a repatriation flight from London. He said he did not intend to seek asylum.

Deteriorating ties

The government intelligence committee held a public hearing on Thursday on national security risks to the university sector, which has focused on research collaboration with China.

The two Asia-Pacific nations are already in a dispute over a number of issues defence to trade and foreign policy and relations are at their lowest level in 50 years.

A turning point occurred in 2017 when Australia banned foreign political donations, with officials warning of “disturbing reports” of Chinese attempts to influence the political process in Canberra.

Australia and China have locked horns over a series of defence, trade and foreign policy disputes since 2017 [File: Romeo Gacad/AFP]

The following year, Australia became the first country to ban Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei from its 5G network. It also reportedly went on to block 10 Chinese investment deals across infrastructure, agriculture and animal husbandry.

Relations worsened further last year when Australia called for an inquiry into the origins of the new coronavirus, which first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan late in 2019.

Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said his government was considering an offer of a safe haven to Hong Kong residents and activists, who face political persecution after China imposed a tough national security law in the semi-autonomous territory.

Beijing has also been angered by Australian criticism of its actions in Xinjiang, Taiwan and the South China Sea.

In response, China curbed Australian beef imports and authorised tariffs amounting to 80.5 percent on Australian barley. Then in November, it imposed levies worth 200 percent on Australian wine and is expected to block further imports, including sugar, lobster, coal and copper ore.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies