- The White House announced that it is deferring the removal of some Hong Kong residents amid "repression" by China.
- Hong Kongers will be able to seek employment in the US as well, according to the White House.
- The move comes as an individual was convicted under the country's new 'national security law' last week.
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President Joe Biden signed a memorandum that will defer the enforced departure of "certain Hong Kong residents" currently in the US for 18 months, the White House said in a Thursday press release.
That means Hong Kongers currently residing in the United States who do not return to Hong Kong voluntarily and have not committed any crimes will be able to stay in the US for another 18 months. They will also be able to seek employment in the US, per the press release.
The move to create a "safe haven" for Hong Kongers was announced as China continues to crack down on pro-democracy protesters in the special autonomous region.
Last week, a 24-year old named Tong Ying-kit was convicted of inciting secession and terrorism under the Beijing-imposed "national security law" after he rammed his motorcycle into a group of police officers while carrying a flag that said "liberate Hong Kong," making him the first individual to be charged under the new law.
The national security law, instituted in June last year, is part of an effort by Beijing to bring the territory more into line with the rest of mainland China. The former British colony was handed back to China in 1997, and as part of both the territory's "Basic Law" and the Sino-British Joint Declaration, the island was supposed to enjoy greater autonomy and political freedom until 2047. The White House pointed to both provisions as having been violated by the new security law.
In the last year, more than 100 people have been arrested under the new law, and there's been a significant chill in political expression in Hong Kong.
The Biden administration sought to frame the move as part of a foreign policy that centers democracy and human rights, arguing there are "compelling foreign policy reasons" for offering safe haven to Hong Kong residents and that the US is "committed to a foreign policy that unites our democratic values with our foreign policy goals."
"Since taking office, the Biden Administration has been clear that we, alongside our allies and partners, strongly oppose the PRC's wielding of the National Security Law to deny basic rights and freedoms, assault Hong Kong's autonomy, and undermine its remaining democratic processes and institutions," said White House press secretary Jen Psaki in a separate statement.