By Chris Cameron
President Biden on Thursday granted special protections to Hong Kong residents in the United States, offering them a temporary deferral from deportation in response to an escalating crackdown by Chinese officials on democratic institutions and political dissent in Hong Kong.
In a memo announcing the decision, Mr. Biden said there were “compelling foreign policy reasons” for the order, which would give any resident of Hong Kong targeted for deportation an 18-month reprieve to live temporarily in the United States.
“Over the last year, the P.R.C. 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,” Mr. Biden said in the memo, noting that at least 10,000 people, including pro-democracy officials and activists, have been arrested in connection with anti-government protests that began in 2019.
Mr. Biden added that “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.”
Antony J. Blinken, the secretary of state, said in a statement that “Hong Kong’s promise of democracy has dimmed,” and that the United States will offer safe haven to residents who fear returning to the city.
The order is the latest move by the Biden administration seeking to respond to the crackdown on dissent in Hong Kong. The United States sanctioned Chinese officials last month for their role in undermining Hong Kong’s democratic freedoms. Earlier sanctions that were imposed by the Trump administration had barred other officials involved in the crackdown from traveling to the United States and had frozen their assets in the country.
Beijing imposed a sweeping new security law in June 2020, granting broad powers to suppress dissent in the city, laying out new offenses such as “separatism” and “collusion with foreign forces” that carry penalties up to life imprisonment. It also demanded oversight of schools and media.
Since that law took force, Beijing has unleashed a stampede of actions to bring Hong Kong into political lockstep with the mainland: arresting activists, seizing assets, firing government workers, detaining newspaper editors and rewriting school curriculums.
The high threshold for bail means that most of those who have been charged under the security law are likely to spend months if not years in jail before they go to trial.
Life in the city has been drastically altered. Residents swarm police hotlines to inform on their neighbors and colleagues. Police officers goose-step in formation in the streets. And civil servants have been ordered to sign pledges of fealty to the government.
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