Australia on Thursday offered thousands of Hong Kong people permanent residence permits in response to China's crackdown on dissent, and received an angry response from Beijing.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said his government has suspended its extradition agreement with the city and, in addition to extending the visas of 10,000 Hong Kongians who are already in the country, has opened the door for thousands who want to start a new life down under.
Morrison said the decisions were made in response to China's imposition of a stringent new security law in Hong Kong last week that "represents a fundamental change in circumstances" for the semi-autonomous territory.
"Australia is adapting its laws, our sovereign laws, our sovereign immigration program, the things we are responsible for and responsible for, to the changes we see there," he said during a press conference.
China's embassy in Canberra quickly shot back and condemned the move as "a serious violation of international law … and gross interference in China's internal affairs".
"China regrets and strongly opposes the unfounded allegations and measures," Australia has announced.
"We urge the Australian side to immediately stop interfering in Hong Kong matters," it said.
Secretary of State Marise Payne said China's moves in Hong Kong had been discussed with Australia's so-called "Five Eyes" security partners – New Zealand, the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada – on Thursday.
Morrison's announcement came a day after China opened a new Hong Kong office for its security agents to oversee the implementation of the law, which targets subversion, secession, terrorism, and foreign collusion.
The law, which followed violent protests against democracy at times, is the most radical change in Hong Kong's freedoms since Britain returned the city to China in 1997 under an agreement that aims to preserve its way of life for 50 years.
China has resisted widespread global criticism of the law, and Australia's efforts to provide a safe haven for some Hong Kong citizens were expected to exacerbate tensions between the two.
Beijing has imposed tariffs on some Australian imports in recent months and has hindered trade in other key commodities in response to Australian moves to combat Chinese interference in the country.
China, Australia's largest trading partner and competitor for influence in the Pacific, was particularly angry when Canberra led calls to investigate the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.
New Zealand is also reviewing its relationship with Hong Kong under the new law, Foreign Secretary Winston Peters said, "including extradition agreements, controls on strategic goods exports, and travel advice."
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Morrison put aside questions as to whether the Hong Kong challenge would likely lead to further Chinese retaliation.
"We will make decisions about what is in our interest and we will make decisions about our laws and advice, and we will do it rationally, soberly, and consistently," he said.
As part of the new measures, 10,000 Hong Kong citizens and Australians who receive a student or temporary work visa can remain in the country for a further five years.
"If you are a temporary visa holder, your visa will be extended to another five years from today, in addition to the time you have already spent in Australia, with a permanent residence path at the end of that period." Said Morrison.
The five-year visa and a possible permanent residence permit were also offered to entrepreneurs or skilled workers in Hong Kong who would like to move to Australia in the future.
"If there are companies that want to move to Australia, create jobs, bring investment, and create opportunities for Australia, we will try to be very proactive in promoting this," he said.
The move reflected Australia's response to Tiananmen Square in 1989 when Canberra offered shelter to thousands of Chinese students and their families.
However, this is contrary to the current conservative government's policy of restricting immigration.
Morrison said he did not expect a rush of new visa applications from Hong Kong residents, due in part to travel restrictions on corona viruses.
And he added that it would be "very disappointing" if China tried to prevent Hong Kong citizens from taking advantage of the offer.
(This story was not edited by NDTV staff and is generated automatically from a syndicated feed.)