Australia has issued new travel advice for China warning its citizens they risk arbitrary detention on national security grounds, in a development likely to inflame simmering tensions between Canberra and Beijing.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on Tuesday updated its website to warn Australians of heightened risks of travel in China. Relations are already strained by trade disputes, allegations of espionage and the new national security law for Hong Kong.
“Authorities have detained foreigners because they’re ‘endangering national security’,” the updated advice for China on government website Smartraveller said. “Australians may also be at risk of arbitrary detention.”
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Australian government advice for China and Hong Kong remains “do not travel”, in accordance with the blanket ban on all overseas travel imposed in March in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said on Tuesday he was not aware of the updated advice, adding that China upheld the rights of foreigners in the country and law-abiding residents had nothing to worry about.
Darren Lim, a lecturer in international relations at Australian National University (ANU), said the updated advice indicates serious concern within diplomatic circles for the safety of Australians in China.
“It’s a big deal insofar as the government is telling Australians there is a real safety issue, the phrase ‘arbitrary detention’ is not something you use lightly,” Lim said. “It will certainly attract Beijing’s ire, though PRC has issued its own travel warning recently so they cannot really complain.”
Rory Medcalf, head of the National Security College at ANU, said the updated advisory reflected “new realities” following the detention of a number of foreigners including Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. Ottawa has accused Beijing of holding the two men as retaliation for Canada’s detention of Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou as she awaits possible extradition to the United States to face charges related to the breach of sanctions on Iran.
“It’s likely we will see many nations provide truth in advertising when it comes to their China travel advice for a long time to come,” Medcalf said.
Canberra last week updated its travel advice for Hong Kong to warn travellers about the city’s controversial new national security legislation banning secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces. The updated advice warns Australians the law could be “interpreted broadly” and unintentionally breached.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said last week his government was considering offering safe haven to Hongkongers wishing to escape the law, prompting Beijing to warn Canberra against going “down the wrong path”.
Beijing earlier threatened to take “countermeasures” against Britain after it announced it would offer a pathway to citizenship to some 3 million Hongkongers eligible to hold British National (Overseas) passports.
Chinese authorities have a number of Australian citizens in custody, including Chinese-Australian writer Yang Hengjun, who was detained in January 2019 in Guangzhou on suspicion of espionage, and Karm Gilespie, who was sentenced to death for alleged drug smuggling.
China’s education and culture ministries last month warned citizens against travelling or studying in Australia, citing a reported uptick in racist incidents against Asian people due to the pandemic, prompting Foreign Minister Marise Payne to accuse Beijing of spreading “disinformation”.
Beijing’s advisory and earlier restrictions on imports of Australian beef and barley were widely interpreted in Australia as retaliation for Canberra’s support for an international independent inquiry into the origins and spread of the coronavirus.
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This article Australians ‘at risk of arbitrary detention’ in China, government warns first appeared on South China Morning Post