Joe Biden has extended a programme that allows Hong Kong citizens facing potential political repression from China to remain in the US following pressure from progressive lawmakers and human rights groups.
Biden declared that Hong Kong citizens residing in the US could remain in the country for two more years as he extended the Deferred Enforced Departure programme. The US president took the move — ahead of the programme expiring on February 5 — because China had “continued to erode” the human rights and freedoms of Hong Kong residents.
“The People’s Republic of China has continued its assault on Hong Kong’s autonomy, undermining its remaining democratic processes and institutions, imposing limits on academic freedom, and cracking down on the press,” Biden said in a memorandum.
The US allowed Hong Kong citizens to take advantage of the programme after China imposed a national security law on Hong Kong in June 2020 that has accelerated the erosion of freedom in the territory. Biden said 120 opposition politicians and activists had been detained since the law took effect and that more than 1,200 political prisoners were “now behind bars”.
Anna Kwok, executive director of Hong Kong Democracy Council, a US-based advocacy group, welcomed the decision, but called for more action to ensure the longer-term safety of Hong Kong citizens residing in the US.
“The two-year lifeline is essential, but it remains true that we can only plan our lives so far ahead at once. Without longer-term solutions that offer humanitarian pathways, a US-based movement for the cause of freedom and democracy in Hong Kong against Beijing’s transnational repression isn’t sustainable,” said Kwok, whose group is working with members of the US Congress to attempt to pass a longer-term legislative solution.
Maya Wang of Human Rights Watch said the extension was “welcome relief” but said Hong Kong residents who face persecution “shouldn’t have to endure this roller-coaster of an extension every two years, which leaves them with uncertainty, their lives in limbo”.
Dennis Wilder, a former top CIA China analyst now at Georgetown University, said the US should pass legislation to provide a permanent solution.
“If we are serious about the commitment to supporting democracy around the world, there are few better examples of people who are seeking freedom than those who have left Hong Kong because of Beijing’s reneging on its 1997 commitment to the people of Hong Kong to ‘one country, two systems’,” said Wilder. “This decision sends a powerful message to Beijing, and the people of Hong Kong, that will not go unnoticed.”
The decision comes two weeks before Antony Blinken, secretary of state, will travel to China, becoming the first Biden administration cabinet secretary to travel to the country. The visit follows on from the meeting that Biden and China’s president Xi Jinping held at the G20 in November.
It also comes as the House of Representatives gears up to take a tougher stance towards Beijing. The Republican majority has created a new committee chaired by Michael Gallagher of Wisconsin that will focus exclusively on China, including issues such as Hong Kong.
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