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Australian Grants Entry to Fugitive Hong Kong Politician

FILE - Former pro-democracy lawmaker Ted Hui appears outside West Kowloon Magistrates' Courts in Hong Kong on Nov. 19, 2020.
FILE - Former pro-democracy lawmaker Ted Hui appears outside West Kowloon Magistrates' Courts in Hong Kong on Nov. 19, 2020.

Fugitive lawmaker Ted Hui has become the first Hong Kong politician allowed into Australia during the COVID-19 pandemic. The move has spurred China to accuse Canberra of interfering in its domestic affairs.

Pro-democracy former Hong Kong lawmaker Ted Hui has been at the center of some unruly scenes in Hong Kong’s parliament. He once threw a bag of rotten plants into the Legislative Council chamber to disrupt a debate.

He fled Hong Kong while on bail in 2019, in a case related to anti-government protests, but still faces national security charges. He went to Europe but has been granted a visitor's visa by Australia. Australia closed its borders to foreign travelers a year ago because of the pandemic, but Hui has been given special permission to fly to the northern city of Darwin.

He arrived this week with his family and all are in mandatory COVID-19 quarantine.

Hui told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. that he was grateful for Canberra’s support.

“I did explain to the Australian government about my situation and what my family is experiencing as an exile,” he said. “They granted me permission on [the] basis of compelling and compassionate reasons. I could actually get on a repatriation flight with other Australians going home. It was very kind of the Australian government and I am grateful for everything given for me.”

Hui believes he is better placed to fight for democracy in Hong Kong in exile in Australia with other like-minded activists. He has called for a stronger international response to national security laws imposed by China in Hong Kong.

However, China’s Foreign Affairs Ministry has accused Australia of meddling in its domestic politics and harboring a fugitive.

Relations between Australia and its biggest trading partner are at their lowest in decades. The list of disagreements is long. There has been friction over Canberra’s call last year for a global inquiry into the origins of the new coronavirus and allegations of Chinese interference in Australian politics.

In a sign of escalating tensions, Beijing has imposed restrictions on several Australian farm exports, including barley and wine, and on coal. China is Australia's biggest trading partner.

Analysts say Hui’s arrival in Darwin will add more friction to an increasingly tense relationship.