China-Australia tensions erupt as Beijing threatens Canberra with ‘counterstrike’

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China’s suppression of democracy in Hong Kong continues after the mass arrest of 55 politicians and activists in Hong Kong in the early hours of January 6. Last Sunday Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne released a joint statement that condemned Beijing’s actions. The statement by the foreign minister of Australia was backed by the foreign ministers of the United States, Britain, and Canada.

They all expressed “serious concern” about the erosion of democratic principles in Hong Kong.

All members of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance, except for New Zealand, signed up to the statement condemning Beijing.

The fact that New Zealand decided to avoid confrontation with Beijing was met with a warm reception from China’s state-run media.

The Global Times claimed New Zealand had the “most guts to say no to the US”.

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The editorial piece also said how this showed that “cracks, quarrels, and disagreements are possible in the Five Eyes alliance”.

Ms Payne’s statement referred to Beijing’s draconian new security law that is being used as a tool to crash democratic principles in Hong Kong.

It said: “The National Security Law is a clear breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration and undermines the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ framework.

“It has curtailed the rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong.

“It is clear that the National Security Law is being used to eliminate dissent and opposing political views.”

China’s foreign ministry spokesman Lijian Zhao responded to the statement and said anyone who gets in the way of China’s affairs would suffer.

Speaking at a press conference on Monday Mr Zhao said: “The Chinese people’s resolve to defend our sovereignty and territorial integrity is unshakeable and we will not permit any person or force to stop the process of China’s reunification.”

He added: “Any actions which harm China’s core interests will be met with a resolute counterstrike and will not succeed.”

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It comes as tensions have remained hight between China and Canberra in recent months after Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison declared an investigation must be made into the origins of Covid-19, which many saw as a jab at Beijing early on in the pandemic.

The two nations have also been locked in a trade battle with Beijing slapping sanctions and tariffs on Australian goods last year.

Australia’s condemnation of China also comes after Tam Yiu-chung, a pro-Beijing member of Hong Kong’s legislature, has publicly challenged the territory’s right to continued judicial independence.

He wants reform and greater supervision from Beijing for Hong Kong’s judiciary.

This is widely seen as a further erosion of the territory’s political autonomy and democratic freedoms.

In a letter sent to the Times, Conservative Party MP Tom Randall argued for the imposition of Magnitsky sanctions against senior Hong Kong officials that contrive with Beijing to erode democratic principles in Hong Kong.

He said: “We urge the UK government to impose Magnitsky-style sanctions on those senior officials in Hong Kong who are responsible for this deep injustice and the weaponisation of law in Hong Kong.”

Beijing’s crackdown in Hong Kong is accelerating.

On Thursday morning, the National Security Department of the Hong Kong Police Force arrested 11 Hongkongers for aiding the escape attempt in August 2020 of twelve Hongkongers.

A statement released by grassroots campaign organisation Stand with Hong Kong gave details of the latest arrests.

The statement said: “Among the arrested was District Councillor Daniel Wong Kwok-tung, an active and fervent legal defender for numerous protesters charged by the Hong Kong SAR government.

“Using the illegitimate National Security Law as a pretext, this is the latest round of crackdown to suppress political dissent in 8 days.”

The grassroots organisation said how this “demonstrates that the true intent of the government and the police lies not in national security but in the removal of all kinds of dissenting voices in the city”.

The statement by Stand with Hong Kong added: “Since the peremptory enactment of the National Security Law 6 months ago, the Hong Kong government has deployed this draconian law to impose on the city the same ‘stability maintenance’ policy that is the norm in CCP China.

“The government’s Department of Justice has used the law in questionable applications for the purpose of intimidating the government’s opponents, forcing these dubious cases through the court system, and threatening the independence of the presiding judges.

“The manoeuvre is Beijing’s attempt to apply political pressure on Hong Kong’s judges, with a result that would devastate the city’s now-fragile independent judiciary and common law system, the legal framework that differentiates Hong Kong from the rest of China.”

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