New Zealanders warned to 'exercise increased caution' in Hong Kong

New Zealanders living in or travelling to Hong Kong are being warned to "exercise increased caution" due to protests in the city.

Earlier on Thursday, Newshub reported that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) hadn't upgraded its advisory for the city which is currently seeing mass protests - despite Australia having raised its alert level.

MFAT has now advised Newshub it has raised its advisory, citing the civil unrest. Kiwis are now urged  to "exercise increased caution" rather than simply exercising normal safety precautions.

"We are not advising that New Zealanders 'do not travel', we are simply advising that they exercise increased caution, avoid protests and demonstrations as they may turn violent, monitor local media and comply with instructions issued by authorities," a MFAT spokesperson said on Thursday afternoon.

Protests have ravaged Hong Kong since June after a Bill was proposed to allow individuals on trial to be extradited to mainland China - something those in opposition to the Bill said eroded Hong Kongers' freedoms under the 'one country, two systems' framework.

That Bill has since been suspended - although some are angry it hasn't been entirely withdrawn - but demonstrations continue in protest of what is seen as growing Beijing influence in the financial hub.

While most of the protests have begun peaceful, violence has broken out due to clashes between police and demonstrators. 

Protests continue in Hong Kong.
Protests continue in Hong Kong. Photo credit: Reuters.

On Wednesday, Australia updated its travel advisory level, calling for travellers to "exercise a high degree of caution". Other countries like the United States, have taken a similar stance. Australia's travel advisory notes that "protests have become unpredictable" and that "tourist areas have been affected".

MFAT's SafeTravel released a statement on Wednesday regarding the on-going protests, noting that despite calls for peaceful protests in Hong Kong, "acts of violence have occurred, including clashes between police and demonstrators".

"Locations of gatherings may be unpredictable and change at short notice. Separately, attacks by reportedly criminally-linked individuals have affected commuters in the New Territories. Further demonstrations are expected."

It advises Kiwis in Hong Kong to avoid protests "as even those intended to be peaceful have the potential to turn violent with little or no warning".

"New Zealanders are also advised to monitor local media for developments and comply with any instructions and restrictions issued by the local authorities. Expect road closures and disruptions to public transport as a result of demonstrations."

However, despite that, until Thursday afternoon, the advisory level remained at its lowest alert, with Kiwis being told to "exercise normal safety and security precautions".

HONG KONG, CHINA - JULY 26: Protesters rally against a controversial extradition bill in the arrivals hall of the international airport on July 26, 2019 in Hong Kong, China. Pro-democracy protesters have continued weekly rallies on the streets of Hong Kong against a controversial extradition bill since 9 June as the city plunged into crisis after waves of demonstrations and several violent clashes. Hong Kong's Chief Executive Carrie Lam apologized for introducing the bill and recently declared it "dead", however protesters have continued to draw large crowds with demands for Lam's resignation and completely withdraw the bill. (Photo by Billy H.C. Kwok/Getty Images)
Photo credit: Getty

Protests in New Zealand

Tensions have flared between pro-Beijing individuals and those in support of the protest in Hong Kong in New Zealand - particularly at the University of Auckland.

Last week, a protest became physical after students clashed over the Hong Kong Bill and Beijing influence in the city.

Video shows pro-Chinese government students verbally threatening another group of students before pushing protest organiser Serena Lee to the ground.

A scuffle broke out at the University of Auckland.
A scuffle broke out at the University of Auckland. Photo credit: Newshub.

The China Consulate in Auckland later released a statement praising the "spontaneous patriotism" of the students standing up for China. Lee told Newshub she has received death threats since the demonstration.

The University of Auckland says a formal investigation is underway into last week's demonstration and the students involved have been spoken to. A police spokesperson told Newshub that police have spoken with the complainant and will be investigating the incident in due course.

However, the China Consulate has slammed New Zealand media reports of the incident and the events in Hong Kong as "biased".

"The Consulate General strongly condemns the use of the recent situation in Hong Kong, under the pretext of so-called academic freedom and freedom of expression, on the university campus to engage in smearing attacks on the Chinese government and the Hong Kong SAR government, inciting anti-China sentiment, and creating opposition between Chinese and Hong Kong students," a translated version of the Chinese text said.

"The Consulate General wishes to reiterate here that Hong Kong is China's Hong Kong and that Hong Kong affairs are China's internal affairs, and no external forces can interfere."

About 100 people turned out to a protest on Tuesday afternoon at the university campus. It was a mostly peaceful affair, but there was a confrontation when a pro-Beijing man appeared holding a sign saying "Hong Kong independence mob".

However, following that, a wall at the university where students could post thoughts and messages of support for those involved in the protests was vandalised.

Newshub.