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On anniversary of Tiananmen, time for Australia to open its heart again

By Nathan Ruser

Hong Kong as we know it is being extinguished under the boot of Chinese authorities determined to bring the territory under ideological control. Australia has opened its heart and border to people newly suffering under oppressive government crackdowns in the past, after Tiananmen, and from South Vietnam.

It’s time for Australia to activate a similar humane migration policy to support Hong Kong residents and welcome the brave, young and smart Hong Kong residents who can no longer live in the husk of their city.

Every June 4, tens of thousands of Hong Kong residents gather to remember the day, almost 31 years ago, when military tanks rolled down the streets of Beijing, with soldiers in tow, shooting indiscriminately into crowds of people asking the government for reform. Last year, organisers estimate that over 100,000 people attended the event. This week, the June 4 vigil is banned.

In the last year, more than a thousand popular demonstrations have been held across the territory. Originally in opposition to proposed laws that would have allowed for Hong Kong citizens to be tried under the opaque and unfair judicial system of Mainland China, these protests have rapidly become an all-out revolt against Beijing’s influence, which is undermining the systemic independence of the city.

Hong Kong has long held out as a bastion of free speech, open markets and rule-of-law in China. Within months, this is set to change. A new law, drafted in Beijing and referring to Hong Kong, proposed last week, completely circumvents Hong Kong’s legislative process and effectively removes the “One Country, Two Systems” barrier that has allowed a modicum of freedom and stability in the territory.

It makes illegal any act considered to undermine Beijing’s national security, a broad brush that would turn millions (more than 50 per cent according to recent polls) of Hong Kong’s people who have demonstrated in the past year into fugitives.

Hong Kong’s death won’t come overnight but the mechanisms that this law will put in place make abundantly clear the final destination for Hong Kong. It makes it equally clear that Beijing is not willing to wait until 2047 – the year Hong Kong reverts to Chinese control under the Basic Law – to exert its unaccountable power.

Australia should extend relief to the beleaguered people of Hong Kong. Beyond “expressing concern” and “calling on” Beijing to show restraint, we need to offer a lifeline to those who will soon live under constant threat of arrest.

This is also an opportunity for us as a country. After a hostile takeover by Nicolas Maduro of the country’s institutions starting in March 2017, Venezuelans fled in droves. During those years essentially everyone was working on a plan to leave the country as economic and political mismanagement brought insecurity and oppression.

While the vast majority fled to Latin-American countries, at least 200,000 travelled to Spain and Portugal. What those countries ended up getting from Venezuela was the best trained sectors of the professional and middle class.

A private Facebook group for Venezuelan migrants who are now doctors lists roughly 7,500 members. Many other migrants are lawyers, architects or oil technicians. Studies have found that on average they were 56 per cent more likely to have a university degree than Spaniards, their predicted GDP per capita was on average $US2,000 higher.

As Spain’s healthcare system suffered under the Coronavirus pandemic, hundreds of foreign doctors, many Venezuelan, stepped up under a scheme that would allow foreign-accredited healthcare workers to fast-track their accreditation in Spain.

In Venezuela, a dictatorial crackdown brought the country’s best and brightest to seek new homes in Europe. They’ve occupied crucial gaps in labour markets of these new homes, they’ve provided crucial services, they’ve employed and, during an unprecedented pandemic, they’ve even saved lives.

It’s Hong Kong’s best and brightest who see most clearly the effect this law will have on the city’s future. Taiwan sees this. Its President, Tsai Ing-wen stated that the country was working on a plan to provide assistance and settlement opportunities for those leaving the city.

When Bob Hawke stood in Parliament in the wake of 1989’s Tiananmen crackdown, he offered refuge to those fleeing and gave a future to thousands who have spent that future contributing to Australia in myriad ways. It’s not just humane of Australia to lend a hand to the citzens of Hong Kong, it’s smart.

Originally published by: Sydney Morning Herald on 03 Jun 2020