U.S. Should Invite Lee to Summit After Report He’s Barred: Hong Kong

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Hong Kong called on Washington to let its leader, John Lee, attend a major economic summit in the U.S. this autumn, after a report said the country plans to bar the sanctioned official.

“The U.S. is obliged to fulfill its basic responsibilities as a host to follow the rules and usual practices” of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation bloc, the city said in a statement Friday, noting that would entail inviting the chief executive of Hong Kong. “The APEC meeting does not belong to a particular country,” it added.

The Washington Post earlier reported that Lee, who is sanctioned by the U.S. for his role in Hong Kong’s crackdown on civil liberties, would be blocked from attending the event in San Francisco in November. Chinese President Xi Jinping is also expected to attend that summit.

The report cited three unidentified U.S. officials familiar with the matter, without providing more details. The U.S. consulate in Hong Kong didn’t immediately responded to a request for comment.

Some individuals who work in Lee’s office were caught unaware by the news of the ban, according to a person familiar with the matter with requested anonymity to speak freely.

Blacklisting Lee from the event would exacerbate tensions between Washington and Beijing, already sparring over everything from trade to human rights. Hong Kong is separately squaring off with Western tech companies Friday in a landmark court case that will determine whether to wipe a controversial protest song from Hong Kong’s internet, further eroding the city’s freedoms.

The U.S. has imposed a raft of sanctions on China in recent years, and some are becoming a barrier to the high-level dialogue Washington has been pushing to restore. Earlier this year, China rebuffed a U.S. request by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to meet with his Chinese counterpart Li Shangfu at a security forum in Singapore they both attended.

The reason for Beijing’s move was sanctions the administration of former U.S. President Donald Trump imposed on Li in 2018 for an arms purchase he oversaw from Russia. Still, top U.S. officials including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and climate envoy John Kerry have all visited Beijing recently, a sign that two nations have made some progress rebuilding relations.

The U.S. State Department earlier this month condemned Hong Kong after it put 1,000,000 Hong Kong dollar ($127,650) bounties on eight overseas democracy activists wanted under a Beijing-imposed national security law. At least one of those people joined campaigners in lobbying the U.S. to ban Lee from attending the APEC meeting.

The Hong Kong government’s crackdown on freedoms continues on Friday with its High Court set to decide whether to impose an injunction on Glory to Hong Kong. Any ban could force Western tech firms such as Google to reconsider their presence in the finance hub, and would directly challenge the freedoms that differentiate the former British colony from mainland China.

It would also raise the legal risks for Silicon Valley tech giants from Alphabet Inc. to Apple and Meta Platforms that quit the Chinese market years ago due to onerous censorship demands.

Lee was sanctioned by the U.S. in 2020 for “undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy” shortly after Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law on Hong Kong. That legislation has since been used to jail a large sweep of the city’s political opposition and pressure the most critical media outlets into shuttering.

While the prohibitions don’t specify restrictions around attending events or meeting with U.S. officials and citizens, they froze any assets Lee had in the U.S. and prohibit anyone there from providing funds, goods or services to him, unless an exemption is issued.

That means any trip to the U.S. could face logistical issues. His predecessor Carrie Lam famously said she had to be paid in cash after being slapped with U.S. sanctions. Generally, U.S. people or entities are banned from engaging with individuals on the list, unless an exemption is awarded.

Last month, China called on the U.S. to fulfill its “obligation” to allow Lee to visit the summit in San Francisco.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said at a regular press briefing: “We believe the U.S. will deliver on its commitments and make sure that representatives of all APEC members, including Hong Kong, China, will participate smoothly.”

Source: The Japan Times