Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne has urged the Hong Kong government to listen to its people while calling for restraint and an end to the violence roiling the city.
In her most direct show of support for the pro-democracy protests, Australia’s top diplomat on Tuesday said Hongkongers had “legitimate concerns” and the “vast majority” of protesters had exercised their rights peacefully.
“We call urgently for restraint from violence and for renewed efforts to achieve a peaceful resolution through dialogue,” Payne told The Australian newspaper.
Responding to concerns the unrest could provoke intervention by Beijing, Payne said Hong Kong authorities should handle the crisis “responsibly and proportionately”.
“It is important that the rights and freedoms set out in Hong Kong’s Basic Law and the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration are upheld,” Payne said.
“Respect for the rights and responsibilities of ‘One Country, Two Systems’, including the rule of law and freedom of assembly, is fundamental to Hong Kong’s success.”
The city endured one of its most turbulent weekends since the eruption of mass protests in June over a now-shelved extradition bill that would have allowed the transfer of criminal suspects to mainland China. Three months later, though, the protests have continued.
Payne’s comments risk further straining relations with Beijing, following the arrest of Chinese-Australian author Yang Hengjun on suspicion of espionage.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison last week rejected the suggestion Yang had spied for Australia as “absolutely untrue”. China’s Foreign Ministry urged Australian to “respect China’s judicial sovereignty” in the case.
Hong Kong is home to about 100,000 Australian expats and Australia’s biggest commercial presence in Asia, with some 600 businesses.
Last month, the country’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade issued a travel alert warning visitors to Hong Kong to exercise “a high degree of caution” due to the unrest in the city.
In June, Payne said Australia had raised concerns about the extradition proposals and supported the “right of people to protest peacefully”.
John Blaxland, a professor at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at Australian National University in Canberra, said Payne’s comments reflected growing fears in Australia about the possibility of a heavy-handed crackdown by Beijing.
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