US announces 'safe haven' for Hong Kongers
Washington, Aug 06: President Joe Biden on Thursday offered Hong Kong residents living in the United States an 18-month extension to their visas to provide them with "a safe haven" from Beijing's crackdown in the territory.
In a statement, the White House said the "politically motivated arrests" of politicians, activists and journalistsshowed a "significant erosion" of rights and freedoms.
Last week, Tong Ying-kit, 24, became the first person to be convicted in Hong Kong under a controversial national security law. He was sentenced to nine years in prison.
What did Biden say?
Under the new measure, most of the Hong Kongers living in the US will be able to apply for visa extensions that will also give them the right to work.
Biden cited Beijing's crackdown on pro-democracy protests in 2019 and erosion of rights in Hong Kong as a reason for the measure.
"Over the last year, the PRC [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 freedom of the press," the White House statement read.
"Offering safe haven for Hong Kong residents who have been deprived of their guaranteed freedoms in Hong Kong furthers United States interests in the region."
White House press secretary Jen Psaki added: "This action demonstrates President Biden's strong support for people in Hong Kong in the face of ongoing repression by the People's Republic of China, and makes clear we will not stand idly by as the PRC breaks its promises to Hong Kong and to the international community,"
Psaki said the US would continue to "support of people in Hong Kong" in the future.
What is the situation in Hong Kong?
US relations with China worsened after a trade war that intensified under former President Donald Trump.
Hong Kong saw mass pro-democracy protests in 2019 against a new law that would have allowed for extraditions to mainland China.
Protests were quelled by Hong Kong police leading to the arrest of hundreds of activists and journalists in the aftermath. Over 10,000 people in total have been arrested due to anti-government protests, according to the White House.
In June 2020, Hong Kong's government passed a controversial national security law that has allowed for the arrest of over 100 opposition politicians and activists.
The closure of the pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper and a reshuffle to the Hong Kong Legislative Council have also heightened tensions.
As a result of the measures in Hong Kong, the US government issued more sanctions on Chinese officials in the former British colony. China reacted with sanctions of its own on US officials, including former Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.