29 Jul 2020

Winston Peters says New Zealand has 'limited steps' it can take against Hong Kong security law

10:23 am on 29 July 2020

Minister of Foreign Affairs Winston Peters says New Zealand will not be looking at visa changes or pathways to residency for Hong Kong citizens like other partners in the Five Eyes group have offered.

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Minister of Foreign Affairs Winston Peters. Photo: RNZ /Dom Thomas

It comes after his announcement yesterday that New Zealand has suspended its extradition treaty with Hong Kong, citing a lack of trust in the independence of the justice system there due to the newly introduced national security law.

Beijing introduced the security law at the end of June, creating new offences which could see Hong Kong residents sent to mainland China for trial.

The US has also signalled plans to suspend its extradition treaty with Hong Kong, while other partners in the Five Eyes intelligence group - Australia, Canada, and United Kingdom - did so earlier this month.

China's foreign ministry retaliated yesterday by suspending their extradition agreements with Australia, Canada and the UK, while the embassy in Wellington accused New Zealand of interference with the country's affairs.

But Peters this morning doubled down on his stance, saying New Zealand was bound to react to the law and order changes in Hong Kong because they went against the agreement made and the 'two systems, one country' rule.

"Some of the allegations being made are regrettable, but they're not persuasive because they're not factual," he told Morning Report.

However, he said there were only "limited steps" New Zealand could take to oppose the new law.

The Australian and UK governments had also announced they would offer a pathway to residency for Hong Kong citizens in their countries.

But Peters said that was not a move New Zealand would be looking at as a further measure, adding that the UK had a special arrangement.

Hong Kong chief executive Tung Chee-hwa, left, and New Zealand's former Treasurer Winston Peters shake hands during their meeting at the Government House in Hong Kong 2 July, 1997.

Hong Kong chief executive Tung Chee-hwa, left, and New Zealand's former Treasurer Winston Peters shake hands during their meeting at the Government House in Hong Kong 2 July, 1997. Photo: David Brauchli / Pool / AFP

British National Overseas Passport holders in Hong Kong were granted special status in the 1980s and while they currently have restricted rights, under new plans they will be given the right to remain in the UK.

Peters said that was a huge constitutional historic difference, and highlighted the economic challenges the country's taxpayer already faced due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

"It's not a next step, if it was a next step it would've been requested by the people in Hong Kong for a start and no-one in the Hong Kong has requested that of us.

"I'm bound to say, looking from the point of view of the crisis we face under Covid-19, that the challenges we face are massive and the idea that we would exacerbate that by bringing people in the massive volume that you could be envisaging out of Hong Hong, then I think you should talk to the New Zealand people about that."

New law 'undoubtedly introduces a new complication' - former ambassador

Former New Zealand ambassador to China Tony Browne told Morning Report New Zealand's stance was entirely understandable.

Having seen the country himself change from a British colony to the hands of Chinese authority, Browne said the legal circumstances under which New Zealand had entered its extradition agreement with Hong Kong in 1998 had changed.

As for the Chinese foreign ministry's response, he said it was very standard.

"Whenever a decision is made by another government that China doesn't like, that call to correct an error is neither ramping it up nor particularly surprising.

"Chinese look at the relationship with New Zealand not bit by bit, but in a much bigger picture. We had a very careful speech by the prime minister at the business summit in Auckland a week ago, which gave a much broader picture of the relationship, painted in a very positive and careful terms, and I think that's where they'll be looking at primarily as a measure of where New Zealand stands in terms of its relationship with China."

Police officers control the demonstration in Hong Kong Island on July 1, 2020, on the 23rd anniversary of the former British colony's handover to China.

Police officers control the demonstration in Hong Kong Island on July 1, 2020, on the 23rd anniversary of the former British colony's handover to China. Photo: The Yomiuri Shimbun / AFP

Despite the treaty suspension following that of partner's in the Five Eyes alliance, Browne said New Zealand's approach was still independent.

"The main point there is the fact the statement the foreign affairs minister made, he did not make it in the context of a Five Eyes statement, but he made a statement that was very similar in tone and content.

"The relationship with China is not easy to manage, never has been, but I don't think there's any prospect of New Zealand lining up behind some of the things that [US Secretary of State Mike] Pompeo was calling for - just essentially regime change in China - that is not part of our foreign policy objective in our relationship with China."

He said New Zealand's actions would always be closely examined by the Five Eyes and Beijing, however, that would not pressure New Zealand into making decisions to please others.

"We don't look and say 'what do we do here to advance or support the US or anyone else'... we have an independent policy."

As tensions rise between protesters against the law and enforcement agencies in Hong Kong, those living here have expressed concerns for their safety.

But Browne, who is also chair of the New Zealand Contemporary China Research Centre in Wellington, said New Zealand's security and legal system was strong and provided protection to all who lived under it.

However, he said for people living in Hong Kong, including New Zealanders, the new legislation "undoubtedly introduces a new complication".

Travel advice was also updated earlier this month to alert New Zealanders to risks presented by the law.

Hong Kong security law

China says its security law is needed to tackle separatist activity, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign elements - and rejects criticism as interference in its affairs.

The Hong Kong government will be required to carry out most enforcement under the new law, but Beijing will be able to overrule the Hong Kong authorities in some cases.

Implications include:

  • Crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces are punishable by a minimum sentence of 10 years, with the maximum being life
  • Inciting hatred of the central government and Hong Kong's regional government are now offences under Article 29
  • Damaging public transport facilities can be considered terrorism
  • Those found guilty will not be allowed to stand for public office
  • Beijing will establish a new security office in Hong Kong, with its own law enforcement personnel - neither of which would come under the local authority's jurisdiction
  • Hong Kong's chief executive can appoint judges in national security cases and the justice secretary can decide whether or not there is a jury
  • Decisions made by the national security commission, set up by local authorities, cannot be challenged legally
  • China also says it will take over prosecution in cases which are considered "very serious", while some trials will be heard behind closed doors
  • People suspected of breaking the law can be wire-tapped and put under surveillance
  • Management of foreign non-governmental organisations and news agencies will be strengthened
  • The law will also apply to non-permanent residents

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