Department Press Briefing – August 5, 2021 (Hong Kong Excerpts)

U.S. Department of State

Department Press Briefing – August 5, 2021

NED PRICE, DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON
AUGUST 5, 2021

1:33 p.m. EDT

HONG KONG EXCERPTS

MR PRICE: A couple things at the top today, and then we’ll move on to your questions. First, today’s announcement of Deferred Enforced Departure for Hong Kong residents currently in the United States provides Hong Kongers who are concerned about returning to Hong Kong with temporary safe haven in this country.

The United States will defer the enforced departure of all Hong Kong residents, who are physically present in the United States as of today, August 5, 2021, for a period of up to 18 months.

The United States stands in solidarity with the people in Hong Kong in the face of cruel repression by the PRC.

This is not just about the United States standing up for people in Hong Kong. We join our allies and partners, including the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia in offering options to those who fear returning to Hong Kong.

Our announcement today is in response to the PRC and Hong Kong authorities’ repeated actions to undermine rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Basic Law and the Sino Joint Declaration, which is a binding international agreement.

We strongly urge Beijing and Hong Kong authorities to cease their continued attacks on Hong Kongers for exercising protected rights and freedoms, and that includes the freedoms of peaceful assembly and expression, and to allow people in Hong Kong to participate meaningfully in their own governance.

We again call on the PRC and Hong Kong authorities to immediately and unconditionally release those detained or imprisoned solely for exercising their fundamental freedoms.

QUESTION: Okay. Thanks. And sorry, I don’t have anything really to start with. But just on the Hong Kong thing —

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: — there are a bunch of questions that this raises, but I suspect that they will be more – they’re probably DHS questions so – in terms of, like, what kind of passports do Hong Kongers have, whether they’re British Overseas National passports, or Chinese passports. Does that matter or is this – should specifics of this go to DHS?

MR PRICE: Many of those questions about enforcement would need to go to DHS.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR PRICE: Great.

QUESTION: Can I ask a follow up on Hong Kong?

MR PRICE: Sure. Sure.

QUESTION: Can you give us a little better sense of that 18-month decision? What happens after 18 months? Is there a plan in the works to offer the equivalent of refugee status to Hong Kongers who look to leave the territory to the U.S.? And I mean, if in 18 months their status hasn’t changed and they have to go back, how does that actually help residents of Hong Kong?

MR PRICE: Well, in terms of how this program will work, as I told Matt just now, the Department of Homeland Security will have additional details on the Deferred Enforcement Departure, including the mechanics of it and details. They will be providing information to make sure that eligible individuals in this country; that is to say, residents of Hong Kong who are based here as of today, August, know how to proceed, given this announcement.

From a policy perspective what this announcement signals is very clear. It is a testament to the fact that the Biden administration will – has and will continue to take steps to ensure that our foreign policy aligns with our values. We have and we will stand up for all of those who are struggling to defend their rights, to defend the – to defend their democracy. There are a number of tools we have at our disposal to demonstrate that support. This is just one tool of many. Each situation is different, as we have said.

Even in recent weeks, we have announced a number of measures to support the aspirations of the people of Hong Kong, to defend what was given to them, what was guaranteed by the PRC to them. You have heard us talk about the Hong Kong business advisory that we released last month, essentially warning American businesses of the deteriorating climate for the private sector in Hong Kong. In conjunction with that, we announced a series of sanctions on PRC and Hong Kong authorities. Today, this deferred enforced departure announcement that President Biden made and that you’ve heard more about from the Department of State and Homeland Security, and all throughout our work with the international community, our partners around the world, in Europe, in the Indo Pacific, to make clear that the United States and our likeminded allies and partners are standing with the people of Hong Kong, that we are by their side as they are seeking to protect, again, that which was guaranteed to them.

QUESTION: Rather than just deferring this enforcement, is the administration considering any scenario under which you would offer permanent residency to Hong Kongers who are in the U.S. or Hong Kongers who want to flee Hong Kong to the U.S.?

MR PRICE: Well, what is true is that residents from Hong Kong can be referred to consideration to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees or any U.S. embassy. Any resident from Hong Kong referred to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program and guaranteed and granted refugee status will be admitted, consistent with the annual presidential determination on refugee admissions. There isn’t, as you know, at this time a special program for Hong Kong. Residents from Hong Kong referred to the program will be required to pass the same security and health screening as any other refugee in the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. What we did today, of course, applies to Hong Kong residents who are already in this country.

QUESTION: All right. But really just to bring it back, why now? Why not a month ago? What is the U.S. seeing that’s happening in Hong Kong that made the government say we need to protect people who theoretically could be facing real harm if they were to go back, say today, August 5th?

MR PRICE: Well, the why now question is all around us. And virtually every week we have spoken of additional crackdowns, of additional incidents of repression, of continuing efforts by the part of PRC and Hong Kong authorities to assault the fundamental rights, freedoms, and again, the guarantees that to which the people of Hong Kong were promised. It is clear when you look at what is happening that PRC authorities seek to use the tools that they have given themselves – and that includes, of course, the national security law and other legislation – to make arbitrary arrests, politically motivated prosecutions of opposition candidates and politicians, activists, and peaceful protestors with the goal it seems – or certainly the end result – of creating an atmosphere of fear, of self-censorship, of repression among the general populace. And our measures today are a response to these and other actions by the PRC and other Hong Kong – and Hong Kong authorities to undermine, again, what was promised to the people of Hong Kong, and that is the high degree of autonomy, the freedoms for people in Hong Kong and its democratic institutions.

QUESTION: What’s the estimated number affected by this memorandum? Or if that’s not available, what’s the number of Chinese citizens arriving from Hong Kong who are in the United States right now?

MR PRICE: I don’t have those numbers with me. We’ll see if we can offer anything on that front for you.

QUESTION: Do these things – does the date get renewed as well? Like if someone from Hong Kong were to come tomorrow, fleeing persecution from the national security law, is that the kind of thing that has been renewed in the past, where the date is renewed and future people could get protection as well?

MR PRICE: There are various programs that afford this type of protection. Deferred Enforced Departure is one. There is a separate program, Temporary Protected Status, with which you are all aware. We are always evaluating conditions on the ground in countries to which these programs apply. So this is what we’re announcing today.

As I’ve said before, even in recent weeks, we have announced a series of policy measures to indicate that we’re standing with the people of Hong Kong: the business advisory, the sanctions, the statements, the spotlight that we’re putting on what is – what has been going on in Hong Kong for some time now. So if conditions warrant and an additional policy response is appropriate, we will make that clear.

Yes.

QUESTION: Can I just clarify one thing? Did the State Department have any way to collect data on how many people from Hong Kong arrive in the U.S.?

MR PRICE: I believe most of these questions will need to go to DHS.

QUESTION: So you don’t? I mean, you might get it from DHS, but unless they’ve gotten a visa, and even if they have gotten a visa, if they need a visa to get in, you wouldn’t know, first off? I mean, you might know if you get it from DHS?

MR PRICE: We talk to our interagency partners quite frequently, yes, yeah.

QUESTION: Yeah, and I know, but you do not collect that information?

MR PRICE: That is primarily a DHS issue, correct.


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