By Kirsty Needham
SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison signalled on Thursday his government may follow Britain in offering visas to Hong Kong citizens after China imposed a new security law on the city.
Britain said it would grant leave for Hong Kong citizens with British National Overseas Status, and their dependent families, to live and work in Britain for five years, and later apply for citizenship.
There are around 3 million Hong Kong citizens who hold, or are eligible to apply for, BNO passports. Britain's Foreign Minister Dominic Raab told parliament he had held conversations with other nations with close relationships with Hong Kong.
Morrison said on Thursday that events in Hong Kong were concerning and the Australian government was "prepared to step up and provide support".
Asked if Australia would consider offering safe haven to Hong Kong people, similar to Britain, he replied: "We are considering very actively the proposals that I asked to be brought forward several weeks ago and the final touches would be put on those and they'll soon be considered by Cabinet to provide similar opportunities."
Morrison didn't provide details of the proposals.
China’s parliament adopted the security law, which punishes the crimes of secession and subversion, in response to protests last year triggered by fears that Beijing was stifling the Hong Kong’s freedoms, guaranteed by a “one country, two systems” formula agreed when it returned to Chinese rule.
Australia's relations with China are strained after Canberra called for an international investigation into the source of the coronavirus.
Australia's Minister for Defence Linda Reynolds said in a speech on Thursday the region was facing "the most consequential strategic realignment since the end of World War Two".
"Nations are increasingly employing coercive tactics that fall below the threshold of armed conflict, cyber attacks, foreign interference and economic pressure that seeks to exploit the grey area between peace and war," she said in the speech to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute
"In the grey zone, when the screws are tightened, influence becomes interference, economic cooperation becomes coercion, and investment becomes entrapment."
Canberra will boost defence spending by 40% to A$270 billion over the next 10 years, to focus on the Indo-Pacific region.
(Reporting by Kirsty Needham; Editing by Michael Perry)