China has issued a stark warning to Australia after Prime Minister Scott Morrison cancelled its extradition treaty with Hong Kong and offered thousands of its citizens an avenue out of the city.
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian addressed reporters on Thursday afternoon (local time) and hinted retaliation to Canberra’s latest move was likely.
“The Australian side's comments and measures are in serious violation of international law and the basic norms governing international relations,” he said.
“They constitute gross interference in China's internal affairs, and China doesn't accept it.
“We express strong condemnation and reserve the right to make further reaction, and Australia should bear all the consequences.”
BBC’s China correspondent Stephen McDonnell questioned Mr Zhao on what international law had been breached, prompting an angered response.
“Isn't ‘non-interference in other countries' internal affairs’ a basic norm governing international relations? Do I have to elaborate?” he said.
Mr Zhao’s comments followed those from the Chinese Embassy in Canberra, where a spokesperson urged Australia to “immediately stop meddling in Hong Kong affairs and China's internal affairs under any pretext or in any way”.
"Otherwise, it will lead to nothing but lifting a rock only to hit its own feet,” the spokesperson said.
China and Australia’s damaged relationship continues to deteriorate and while it is unclear what China’s next move will be, Chinese state media publication The Global Times warned on Wednesday there will be “unprecedented” economic consequences for Australia if it continues to interfere with Chinese affairs.
“The subsequent impacts may involve Australia's tourism, investment, education, and trade sectors, among others, generating immeasurable losses to countless local businesses,” it said.
A similar threat was issued by Chinese Ambassador Cheng Jingye after Mr Morrison called for an independent investigation into the origins of the coronavirus outbreak.
In the weeks to follow, those threats appeared to materialise with tariffs slapped on exports from the agriculture industry and warnings to Chinese nationals over travelling to Australia – a move seen as targeting Australia’s education and tourism industries which are heavily reliant on Chinese students and visitors.
China will ‘fight to the end’
Griffith Asia Institute’s Professor Caitlin Byrne told ABC News 24 “negative rhetoric at the least” was expected in response to Mr Morrison’s announcement.
“I think it sits within the context of where the relationship is at the moment,” she said.
Prof Byrne said the move was aligned to practices taken by the UK and Canada, and ultimately was a “fairly measured response”.
She said Mr Morrison made it clear his offer to extend visas of students and skilled workers from Hong Kong was not a humanitarian resettlement program.
And while Xu Shanpin, Centre for Australia Studies adjunct researcher at the China University of Mining and Technology, told The Global Times China would “fight it to the end to defend its core interests”, he said the possibility of “comprehensive confrontation” was low.
Mr Morrison’s latest move was triggered by Beijing imposing new legislation on Hong Kong last week that criminalised subversion, secession and collusion with foreign forces.
Pro-democracy protesters have since been charged for holding flags, posters and pamphlets.
Mr Morrison said the laws undermined Hong Kong's independence, basic law and "one country, two systems" pact with Beijing.
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