Multiple MPs have voiced concerns about the amount of influence the Chinese government holds at Australian universities.
Thousands of people took to the streets in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide on Friday and Saturday in support of those protesting in Hong Kong.
Things took a nasty turn when pro-democracy and pro-China groups clashed on Friday, with video’s emerging showing Chinese screaming expletive-laden chants.
In the wake of the clashes Liberal backbenchers Amanda Stoker, Tim Wilson, Dave Sharma and James Paterson warned Australian universities must work to protect free speech during these clashes.
Senator Stoker said the free speech of students to have views that don’t align with the Chinese Communist Party must be looked after.
“[There is a] reluctance in their administrations to defend the rights of non-CCP aligned students who dare to speak out against Beijing; it is legitimate to ask questions about how China came to have so much influence in these institutions,” The Sydney Morning Herald reported her saying.
Labor has also asked the Morrison government to give federal parliamentarians access to briefings on Australia’s relationship with China, to help drive a “more informed” debate on the topic.
Opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong says she will write to Foreign Minister Marise Payne formally making the request.
Briefings from both the department of foreign affairs and the office of national intelligence should be shared with politicians, Labor believes.
“We are at a point where the relationship is more complex, also more consequential,” Senator Wong told ABC’s Insiders on Sunday.
“We should have a much more sensible and mature discussion about how we make it work for us … we should have a more informed debate.”
CHINA’S WARNING TO AUSSIE PROTESTERS
China has sent a stern warning to protesters who marched through the streets of Sydney and Melbourne yesterday in support of those protesting in Hong Kong.
There were clashes as both pro-democracy and pro-China groups flooded the streets yesterday, with more protests planned for today.
China’s ambassador to Australia, Cheng Jingye, issued a statement yesterday as the rallies in Sydney and Melbourne were in full swing.
He warned foreign governments not to interfere with the situation or support the Hong Kong protesters, urging those protesting in Australia to “see the real picture”.
“We sincerely hope that people from all walks of life in Australia will see the real picture of situation in Hong Kong, act in the interests of Hong Kong’s prosperity, stability and rule of law,” Mr Jingye said.
“Any attempt to mess up Hong Kong is doomed to fail.”
He also branded the actions of the Hong Kong protesters as “radical, violent and illegal”.
“Their behaviours have grossly trampled on the rule of law and social order in Hong Kong, seriously threatened the local residents’ life and safety, severely jeopardised Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability,” he said.
No responsible government would sit idly by.”
Despite this warning, more pro-democracy protests are being held this afternoon, with about 100 pro-democracy activists gathering again in Adelaide.
In Rundle Mall, their “free Hong Kong” chants were met with a handful of vocal pro-China supporters, who say people from Hong Kong are acting like “terrorists”.
One pro-China supporter, who chose to remain anonymous, said the pro-democracy group have the wrong idea of freedom.
“They act like terrorists,” he said on Sunday afternoon.
“It’s not about freedom, it’s about ‘China is China’. China is one nation, that’s it.”
On the other side, 19-year-old student Kelvin Chan was handing out surgical masks as a symbol of “white terror” — the suppression of political ideas.
He said despite being in Australia, protesters can still help their “brothers and sisters” in Hong Kong.
“It’s a wake-up call to all around the world.” “The brutality of police cannot be tolerated by civilised countries … you can’t shoot tear gas indoors and rubber bullets,” Mr Chan said.
Several hundred also people gathered at Sydney’s Belmore Park for a protest that ended peacefully.
A poster advertising the event tells attendees to “be friendly, be peaceful, be police, be safe, be united, sympathise”.
This advice comes after disturbing footage from Friday showed pro-Hong Kong protesters taunted with expletive-laden chants from pro-Chinese activists before scuffles broke out in Melbourne and Adelaide.
A video posted to social media shows Chinese students at a protest at the University of South Australia in Adelaide, chanting “Cao ni ma bi” or “F*** your mother’s c***” to Hong Kong protesters.
In Melbourne, footage from Friday night shows pro-Chinese activists chanting “Jiao baba” — which roughly translates to “call us dad”.
Other videos from Friday night show up to 1000 rival activists jostling as tempers flared at the demonstration in Melbourne — which began at 7pm outside the State Library in Swanston Street.
The two groups faced off and exchanged heated words before police formed a line separating the groups. Among the chaos, an ABC cameraman was shoved by a man who then appeared to attack his gear.
The Herald Sunreported that pro-democracy advocates chanted “Free Hong Kong” as they gathered on the steps of the library, carrying signs pledging “solidarity with Hong Kong”.
Some of their posters read, “Say No to Hong Kong Police’s Brutality”, “Support Hong Kong people against tyranny” and “I can’t keep calm because Hong Kong is dying.”
Some were also wearing red bandages over their right eyes in solidarity with a girl who was allegedly shot in the by police in Hong Kong late last week.
A social media post by the rally’s organiser claimed it had been disbanded about 9pm due to “acts of violence from counter protesters”.
The violence in Melbourne follows months of protests in Hong Kong over plans for laws allowing extraditions to mainland China.
The ABC reports that the protest became heated when more than 100 pro-Chinese demonstrators arrived, one of them claiming a pro-Hong Kong protester had put a hand on a female member of their group.
In Sydney, nearly 500 people gathered for a rally at Martin Place, which was more than three times more than the organisers expected.
The Australian reports that, by 7.15pm, the peaceful and silent protest in Sydney’s Martin Place was interrupted by a group of about 50 pro-China protesters who were yelling that Hong Kong was “part of China”.
Ariel Lui, a Chinese student at the University of Technology Sydney, was holding a sign that read, “Stop Violence, I support Hong Kong policemen”.
“I don’t like any people trying to set apart our country,” she told The Australian.
Police quickly moved them along and pushed them back to the other side of Martin Place. The crowds were dispersed about 7.45pm.
On Saturday, thousands of people marched up George Street chanting, “I love China, I love Hong Kong, Hong Kong is part of China”, The Daily Telegraphreported.
CHINA FLEXES MUSCLE NEAR HONG KONG
Members of China’s paramilitary People’s Armed Police marched and practised crowd control tactics at a sports complex in Shenzhen across from Hong Kong in what some interpreted as a threat against pro-democracy protesters in the semi-autonomous territory.
The sound of marching boots and synchronised shouts echoed from the grounds on Friday. Officers in green camouflage stoodguard at closed entrances. A stadium security guard said “it wasn’t clear” when the paramilitary police would leave the grounds.
Chinese state media have only said that the Shenzhen exercises were planned earlier and were not directly related to the unrest in Hong Kong, though they came shortly after the central government in Beijing said the protests were beginning to show the “sprouts of terrorism.”
From a distance, police could be seen conducting drills in military fatigues, using shields, poles and other riot-control gear. In one exercise, two groups marched in formation with those in front raising shields as if to protect themselves from projectiles. Others behind held red flags and banners. The words “the law” and “prosecuted” could be seen on one.
Outside, dozens of armoured carriers and trucks sat in the parking lot of the Shenzhen Bay Stadium, close to a bridge linking mainland China to Hong Kong.
Asked if Hong Kong police could maintain order or if mainland Chinese intervention is becoming inevitable, Hong Kong police commander Yeung Man-pun said that while they face tremendous pressure, “I can tell you we’re confident the police have the capability to maintain law and order.”
Weeks of protests in Hong Kong have been marked by increasing violence and a shutdown of the Hong Kong airport earlier this week. The demonstrators are demanding expanded political rights and the scrapping of legislation that could have seen criminal suspects sent to mainland China.
A weekend of protests began Friday night with a university student-led “power to the people” rally in Chater Garden, a public square in the financial district. A pro-democracy march is planned for Saturday along with a separate pro- government “Save Hong Kong” rally, ahead of a major pro-democracy rally called for Sunday. Police have denied permission for the march on Sunday, but protesters have ignored such denials in the past.
— Yves Dam Van reported from Hong Kong
News Corp. Australia