ABC Afternoon Briefing – 25th Anniversary of the Handover of Hong Kong




Subjects: 25th anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong

GREG JENNETT, HOST: The Australian Government’s lamented this departure from original undertakings and so has a transnational group of parliamentarians under the banner of the Inter Parliamentary Alliance on China. Now Labor MP Peter Khalil is its Co-chair, and he joins us now from Melbourne. Peter, welcome back to Afternoon Briefing. What are your thoughts as you witness Xi Jinping in Hong Kong today on a fairly unusual visit there? Does the heart sort of sag a little when you consider all the changes that have gone there?

PETER KHALIL, FEDERAL MEMBER FOR WILLS: I think Greg, that that’s kind of accurate. It’s tinged with sadness watching this because, and I think Chris Patten, who was the last British Governor of Hong Kong, kind of got it right when he said in a press conference that President Xi and the CCP are actually terrified of what Hong Kong actually stands for. And that is democracy, free speech, a free press, an independent judiciary, and that all those elements of what Hong Kong has been threatened the total control of the CCP over the territory. And so, there’s great sadness in watching what has transpired. And the one country two systems arrangement has been completely eroded. The autonomous status of Hong Kong has been eroded particularly over the last couple of years since the establishment of the so-called national security law, which has been condemned by countries around the world, including Australia.

JENNETT: Well, you are part of this Interparliamentary Group, but would it be fair to say that nothing about XI Jinping’s visit today, or indeed any of the conduct of his government, could give you any comfort that Beijing would or might at any time in the future bow to international opinion? It seems fairly resolute and determined. 

KHALIL: Yeah, I mean that’s a good point. I don’t think we should or can give up on Hong Kong. I mean Boris Johnson, the British Prime Minister, has said that very clearly. Antony Blinken has made comments about standing up for Hong Kong. Penny Wong has been very strong, and the new Labor government has been very strong on this as well. In fact, Penny, even before being Foreign Minister, as shadow Foreign Minister, was very clear that the national security law was inconsistent with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and other human rights, and she was very, very clear about that. And we added bipartisan support, obviously to the statements from all countries around the national security law. We can’t give up because the people of Hong Kong have been really brave and courageous in standing up for their rights, for their freedoms and when you look out at what the national security law has been used for in the last couple of years to arrest Pro-democracy activists for even having political slogans on T-shirts or singing songs or even writing on a piece of paper, ‘free Hong Kong’ or ‘freedom for Hong Kong’, and there has been this massive suppression and repression of the people of Hong Kong, but they have been so, so brave in striving to protect and uphold the freedoms that they have known for generations, and we can’t stand idly by and not continue to give solidarity and support as an international community to Hong Kongers. 

JENNETT: Yeah, well that is being clearly expressed, particularly today. Can I ask you about Australia’s performance not only in the messaging but in some of the practical elements? I know the former government, with bipartisan support, here in Australia, tried to create a bit of a visa pathway for residency here, if people chose to take it. Are you satisfied that those processes are up and running, working smoothly, or being applied for, by Hong Kongers? 

KHALIL: Well, I am very supportive of those pathways for Hong Kongers. The difficulty, of course, is the borders are shut Greg, to a certain extent. It’s very hard, frankly, for Hong Kongers to leave Hong Kong, that’s one of the major blockages there. And so, that’s really one of the big problems. Our new government is very committed to those pathways as well as doing what is necessary with the visa processing and Penny Wong has been very strong on raising the issues around Hong Kong. She’s put out a statement again, even though she’s on a trip now to Malaysia, around the fact that the erosion of the autonomous status of Hong Kong is of great concern to the Albanese Labor government, joining her voice with Secretary of State Blinken, the British, many other countries who have raised their issues and some of those countries of course have also put in place a visa pathway for Hong Kongers. The difficulty of course is getting them out of the country. 

JENNETT: Right, so it’s just finding a sort of a short-term practical problem there, and just finally Peter Khalil, the installation of John Lee as the new chief executive in Hong Kong, as of today. What extra signaling do you think that brings with it as far as Beijing’s intentions over the territory? 

KHALIL: Well, unfortunately Greg, John Lee has led a lot of the police actions in suppressing the democracy activists in the protests, particularly in 2019, and shutting that down. And here’s my real problem. John Lee has been anointed, uncontested. There’s been no election, so another breach, of course, of the democratic commitments that were made to Hong Kong, but also, if you look at the Hong Kong Legislative Council, half of the Members are no longer democratically elected or voted on, and the other half of the candidates of course have to be vetted to be patriotic, which we know what that means, which is effectively being pro-Beijing. So, there’s been a complete and utter shutdown of any democratic rights or freedoms. A shutdown of free speech, a shutdown of the free media, or any of the newspapers. Some of them have had to shut down, they’ve been raided. There’s also been an attack on the independence of the judiciary. So, this is of great concern, this new administration under John Lee and we’ll wait and see whether that suppression continues on and becomes actually worse. So, we have a lot of work to do to support Hong Kong in this time of need. 

JENNETT: Yeah, there is a lightning rod there isn’t there for you to continue to express your unhappiness and unease through that Interparliamentary alliance. Peter Khalil thanks so much for joining us today. 

KHALIL: Thank you Greg.