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Rubio, Merkley, Smith, McGovern: “Chief Executive Lee is not allowed to visit the U.S.”

Jun 6, 2023 | Press Releases

In August 2020, in response to China’s draconian National Security Law, President Trump imposed sanctions on 11 individuals for their role in undermining Hong Kong’s freedom and autonomy. Among those designated was Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, John Lee Ka-chiu, who was involved in activities such as “coercing, arresting, detaining, or imprisoning individuals under the authority of the National Security Law.” Despite this, the Biden Administration is planning to allow Chief Executive Lee, a known human rights violator, into the United States to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in San Francisco later this year.

U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Representatives Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Jim McGovern (D-MA) sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken urging him not to invite the Chief Executive given he is sanctioned by the U.S. government for his role in the cracking down against civilian protests in Hong Kong.

The full text of the letter is below. 

Dear Secretary Blinken:     

We write to express concern with your plan to invite the Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, John Lee Ka-chiu, to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders’ Meeting in San Francisco in November. Because of the Hong Kong government’s violent suppression of peaceful protesters in 2019, inviting Chief Executive Lee to attend the APEC meeting sends a terrible signal to human rights violators worldwide.      

In 2020, Chief Executive Lee was sanctioned by the U.S. Department of Treasury for his role as Hong Kong’s Secretary for Security, when he chose violence against peaceful protestors who were using their voices against the draconian National Security Law (NSL). The Department of Treasury noted that Chief Executive Lee was “… involved in coercing, arresting, detaining, or imprisoning individuals under the authority of the…[NSL]… as well as being involved in its development, adoption, or implementation.” Due to his status as a sanctioned individual, Chief Executive Lee is not allowed to visit the United States unless given a waiver by the administration.       

It is in this context that we are dismayed to learn that the Biden Administration plans to waive the sanctions on Chief Executive Lee and allow him into the United States to attend the APEC meeting. In response to a question for the record, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman confirmed “[t]he United States plans to invite Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee to attend APEC. As the host, we believe it is important to foster regional economic dialogue and for the United States and [the People’s Republic of China] to work together to maintain global macro-economic stability.” While we understand the importance of fostering regional economic dialogue with our Indo-Pacific allies and partners, inviting a sanctioned human rights abuser is an affront to all those who have been persecuted by the Chinese Communist Party and the People’s Republic of China (PRC), and its proxies in Hong Kong, including American citizens Samuel Bickett and John Shing-Wan Leung, as well as prominent Hong Kong leaders Jimmy Lai Chee-ying, Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, and Joshua Wong Chi-fung.      

As you know, the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019 (P.L. 117-328) requires you to annually certify whether Hong Kong holds the high degree of autonomy it enjoyed when transferred to the control of the PRC in 1997. Starting in 2020, and as recently as March 2023, every U.S. Secretary of State, including you, has not certified that Hong Kong enjoys this autonomy and therefore does not warrant treatment under U.S. law in the same manner as they were applied in 1997. Inviting Chief Executive Lee to APEC would be tantamount to recognizing Hong Kong as a separate economy from the PRC, when in fact, and according to U.S. law, it is not. We therefore urge you to deny any action that would give the PRC disproportional representation at APEC, including prohibiting Chief Executive Lee from entering the United States. 

Thank you for your attention to this important matter.

Sincerely,