Australia is actively considering providing a safe haven to Hong Kong residents in response to China’s sweeping new security law, it said on Thursday.
The move is likely to further inflame tensions with Beijing.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the situation in Hong Kong was “very concerning” and his government was “very actively” considering proposals to welcome in residents of the former British territory.
Asked by a reporter whether Australia could extend an offer of safe haven, Mr Morrison responded “yes”.
He said the measures would soon be considered by his Cabinet, hinting strongly that it would be approved.
“We think that’s important and very consistent with who we are as a people,” he said.
It comes a day after the United Kingdom announced a new route for those with British National Overseas status and their families to move there and eventually apply for citizenship.
Hong Kong was under UK jurisdiction until Britain handed it back to China in 1997 with a guarantee that Beijing would preserve the city’s judicial and legislative autonomy for 50 years.
But critics say the new law – passed by Beijing’s rubber-stamp parliament this week without its text being released to the public – breaches the “One Country, Two Systems” principle that formally entered international law in 1984.
Mr Morrison said no final decision had been made on how Australia’s arrangements would be structured but the country was “prepared to step up and provide support” to Hong Kong residents.
Any offer is sure to further strain Canberra’s relationship with Beijing, coming after repeated clashes between the two sides.