Washington, United States:
President Joe Biden announced on Thursday that Hong Kong residents currently in the United States who fear for their safety amid political crackdown in their own countries will be given a temporary safe haven.
Biden said the move recognizes “the significant erosion” of rights and freedoms in Hong Kong by the Chinese government.
“By unilaterally imposing on Hong Kong the People’s Republic of China Law on the Protection of National Security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, the People’s Republic of China has undermined the enjoyment of rights and freedoms in Hong Kong,” he said in a statement. a statement. .
Biden cited the “politically motivated arrests” of more than 100 opposition politicians, activists and protesters on charges of national security law, including allegations of secession, subversion and terrorist activity.
More than 10,000 others have been arrested in connection with anti-government protests, he said.
The new decision extends “delayed forced departure” (DED) to Hong Kong residents currently in the United States, allowing them to stay for 18 months even if their visas have expired.
It differs from the more formal immigration class of “temporary protected status” (TPS), which is given to foreigners trapped in the United States due to natural disasters or political upheaval at home.
“Democracy is eclipsed”
There was another immediate response from China or Hong Kong to Biden’s announcement.
China passed the National Security Law in Hong Kong on June 30, 2020, giving Beijing more power over the judiciary in the area and criminalizing many types of political activity.
Critics say it is being used to undermine the city’s “one country, two systems” architecture for governance that emerged when Britain returned its former colony to China in 1997.
The arrests of opposition politicians have stifled freedom of expression and made activists fear detention or other punishments, including abroad.
In June, Hong Kong police raided the offices of the feisty pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily, closed it and arrested key figures.
Under national security law, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, “Hong Kong’s promise of democracy has faded.”
“(China) has fundamentally changed the foundation of Hong Kong’s institutions and suppressed the freedoms of Hong Kongers,” he said in a statement.
Biden’s statement came nearly three weeks after the US government formally warned US companies of the “growing risks” of operating in the Asian financial center.
China’s foreign ministry said the July 16 move was intended to “unjustly smear Hong Kong’s business environment” and was retaliated by imposing sanctions on seven American individuals and organizations.
The Washington-based Democratic Council of Hong Kong, one of those hit with sanctions, said Biden’s offer of DED status “will be a crucial lifeline for Hong Kongers currently in the US”.
A safe haven “means the difference between living free while continuing to fight for human rights and democracy in Hong Kong and being forced to return to Hong Kong to spend years or even a life behind bars,” the director of the agency said. council, Samuel Chu.
Chu, a U.S. citizen for whom Hong Kong authorities have issued an arrest warrant, said DED status could potentially benefit an estimated 1,500-2,000 Hong Kong students in the United States and possibly tens of thousands of others entering the country. entered on tourists or other temporary visas.
Providing a safe haven for Hong Kongers is likely to worsen relations between Beijing and Washington.
The two sides face a long list of issues, including China’s threats to US-backed Taiwan and its disputed territorial claims in the South China Sea, US allegations that China is systematically stealing US intellectual property, and the sweeping repression of Uyghurs. and other minorities in China’s Xinjiang Western Region.
When a top US diplomat, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, visited Beijing in July for talks, Vice Secretary of State Xie Feng said Washington should stop seeing China as an “imaginary enemy.”
“The hope may be that by demonizing China, the US can somehow… blame China for its own structural problems,” Xie said.