Australia considering ‘safe haven’ offer to Hong Kongers

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the situation in Hong Kong was ‘very concerning’. Above, protesters scamper after hearing police are approaching during a rally against a new national security law on July 1, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 02 July 2020

Australia considering ‘safe haven’ offer to Hong Kongers

  • Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the situation in Hong Kong was ‘very concerning’
  • China has warned its students and tourists against going to Australia

SYDNEY: Australia is actively considering providing safe haven to Hong Kong residents in response to China’s sweeping new security law, it said Thursday, a move likely to further inflame tensions with Beijing.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the situation in Hong Kong was “very concerning” and his government was “very actively” considering proposals to welcome in residents of the former British territory.
Asked by a reporter whether Australia could extend an offer of safe haven, Morrison responded “yes.”
He said the measures would soon be considered by his Cabinet, hinting strongly that it would be approved.
“We think that’s important and very consistent with who we are as a people.”
It comes a day after the United Kingdom announced a new route for those with British National Overseas status and their families to move there and eventually apply for citizenship.
Hong Kong was under UK jurisdiction until Britain handed it back to China in 1997 with a guarantee that Beijing would preserve the city’s judicial and legislative autonomy for 50 years.
But critics say the new law — passed by Beijing’s rubber-stamp parliament this week without its text being released to the public — breaches the “One Country, Two Systems” principle that formally entered international law in 1984.
The Chinese Embassy in Canberra on Thursday dismissed criticisms of the new law, releasing a statement telling Australia to “stop meddling in Hong Kong affairs and China’s internal affairs.”
It said “we strongly deplore” Australia’s response to the legislation, after Foreign Minister Marise Payne expressed “deep concern” over the developments on Wednesday.
Morrison said no final decision had been made on how Australia’s arrangements would be structured, but the country was “prepared to step up and provide support” to Hong Kong residents.
Any offer is sure to further strain Canberra’s relationship with Beijing, coming after repeated clashes between the two sides.
Most recently, Australia enraged China by calling for an independent investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.
Canberra has also pushed back against what it describes as China’s economic “coercion,” covert influence campaigns and the use of technology companies like Huawei as a tool for intelligence-gathering and geopolitical leverage.
China has warned its students and tourists against going to Australia, slapped trade sanctions on Australian goods and sentenced an Australian citizen to death for drug trafficking.


Kabul assembly to decide fate of last Taliban inmates

Updated 07 August 2020

Kabul assembly to decide fate of last Taliban inmates

  • The 400 inmates still in government custody have been at the center of a dispute that is delaying peace
  • A prisoner swap between the Taliban and Kabul was a major part of the February agreement signed by the US and the militants in Qatar

KABUL: President Ashraf Ghani on Friday inaugurated a traditional grand assembly, the Loya Jirga, to help decide whether the last 400 Taliban prisoners held by Kabul should be freed as part of a historic peace deal between the US and the militants. 
The 400 inmates still in government custody have been at the center of a dispute that is delaying peace in the war-torn country.
A prisoner swap between the Taliban and Kabul was a major part of the February agreement signed by the US and the militants in Qatar.
The exchange should have taken place in early March and be immediately followed by talks to decide the future of Afghanistan’s political system, including the creation of an interim government.
“Today, we have gathered here to discuss what is our interest in the talks and the ultimate price of peace. Now is the time for making a major decision,” Ghani told the assembly of over 3,200 delegates in Kabul. 
“The Taliban have committed that after the freedom of their 400 prisoners, they will begin official talks with our delegation,” he said. “But at the same time, they have also warned that if the prisoners are not freed, they will not only continue the violence, but also increase it.” 
The Qatar agreement stipulated that the Afghan government would first release up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners and the militants would free about 1,000 national security personnel. Ghani’s government, which was not part of the Qatar accord, initially refused to free the militants. 
However, under pressure from Washington, Kabul has freed more than 4,600 Taliban inmates. But it is refusing to free the remaining 400 who, it said, had been behind major crimes and attacks.   
After Eid Al-Adha prayers last week, Ghani announced he would summon the Loya Jirga, a traditional council to reach consensus among Afghanistan’s rival tribes, factions and ethnic groups.
Delegates are expected to announce their decision in three days. 
As Ghani spoke, a woman delegate stood and voiced her opposition to the release of the remaining Taliban inmates, saying that it would be “national treason.” 
The meeting has been held under tight security and parts of Kabul are under lockdown. 
Many of Afghanistan’s political and tribal leaders, including former President Hamid Karzai, were absent from the assembly.   
Meanwhile, the Taliban accused Ghani of blocking the start of negotiations.  
The US special envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, said the Kabul assembly was a historic “opportunity for peace” and “must be seized by all sides.”