The Federal Government has issued new travel advice warning Australians they could face “arbitrary detention” if they go to mainland China.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade also said Chinese Government authorities have detained foreigners because they were allegedly “endangering national security”.
The department was already advising travellers not to travel to China — or anywhere overseas — because of the coronavirus pandemic.
That level of advice has not changed.
Australians are banned from leaving the country for overseas travel unless they are granted an exemption by the Federal Government.
The new advice comes as tensions between the two countries continue to simmer in the wake of the Morrison Government’s push for a global inquiry into China’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
The push sparked a tit-for-tat with China, with Beijing urging its citizens not to travel to Australia due what it said was a spike in racism towards Chinese visitors.
Last week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison also confirmed the Government was “actively considering” offering safe haven to Hong Kongers after controversial national security laws were imposed on the special administrative region by China.
Feng Chongyi, an Associate Professor in China Studies at the University of Technology Sydney, believed the change to the advice was prompted by the security law’s introduction in Hong Kong.
“I think it is a precautional response given that the Hong Kong version of the National Security Law has been so broad and vague,” he said.
“In a sense that it subjects almost everyone into arbitrary detention.”
The precipitous decline in the relationship has stirred anxieties in Canberra that the Chinese Government could engage in so-called “hostage diplomacy” — deliberately arresting an Australian citizens on the mainland to give it a new point of leverage with the Morrison Government.
In late 2018 China detained two Canadian citizens, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, just weeks after Canada arrested Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou on charges filed in United States courts.
Last month the two men were charged with “spying on state secrets and intelligence”.
But the Canadian Government insists the charges are baseless and has accused the Chinese Government of trying to use the two men to blackmail it into freeing Meng Wanzhou.
When asked about the change in advice, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperon Zhao Lijian said he was not aware of the relevant information but the Chinese Government “always protects foreigners’ human rights”.
“We hope that relevant sides will be prudent with their words and deeds and work to contribute to China-Australia relations.”