No upgrade to travel advisory to Hong Kong despite Australia raising alert

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) is monitoring protests in Hong Kong but hasn't upgraded its advisory for Kiwis travelling there - despite Australia raising its alert.

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That Bill has since been suspended - although some are angry it hasn't been entirely withdrawn - but demonstrations continue in protest of what is seen as growing Beijing influence in the financial hub.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

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".

But while New Zealand's travel advisory to Hong Kong was reviewed on Tuesday, as of writing, it remains at its lowest level. MFAT's SafeTravel site says Kiwi travellers should "exercise normal safety and security precautions".

That means MFAT deems Hong Kong as having an overall safety and security situation "similar to that of New Zealand".

"Exercise common sense and look out for suspicious behaviour, as you would in New Zealand."

SafeTravel did, however, release 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."

A MFAT spokesperson told Newshub that was its current advice, but it was "continuing to monitor the situation" and would provide an update if the advice changed.

No upgrade to travel advisory to Hong Kong despite Australia raising alert
Photo credit: Getty / Reuters.

Other travel advisories

To put New Zealand's current travel advisory to Hong Kong into perspective, MFAT has a higher advice level for Australia, Germany, and Norway among other countries. These have all been reviewed within the last few months.

Travellers to these countries are asked to "exercise increased caution" due to a threat of terrorism.

The United Kingdom and the United States are also on this list, however, these advisories haven't been reviewed since late last year.

Countries on the "avoid non-essential travel" list include many African nations, as well as some parts of Indonesia, Mexico, and Turkey. Those countries MFAT say not to travel to include Afghanistan and Venezuela.

These advisories relate mostly to risks of terrorism, civil unrest, violent crime and kidnapping.

Other countries which are currently on the same level as Hong Kong, and therefore deemed to have a safety and security level "similar to that of New Zealand" include Austria, most of China, Ireland, and Switzerland.

"The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade provides advice on security and safety concerns in many destinations. This advice is based on information from a number of sources. It reflects potential risks, and our assessment of what these might mean for New Zealanders," the SafeTravel site says.

"Our assessment may also take into account actions of local authorities, and our ability to provide you with assistance."

The full list of travel advisories and specific information regarding precautions Kiwis should take can be found here.

New Zealand passport.
New Zealand passport. 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.

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.

A scuffle broke out at the University of Auckland.
A scuffle broke out at the University of Auckland. Photo credit: Facebook / New Zealand Hong Konger / Getty.

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.