Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he thinks the United States should provide refuge for Hongkongers fleeing the Chinese regime’s widening suppression of the city’s freedoms.
“We’ve seen China act egregiously to undermine the very commitments it made during the handover of Hong Kong … from Britain,” Blinken said in an interview with MSNBC aired on Feb. 1. The territory returned to Chinese rule in 1997, with Beijing promising to preserve Hong Kong’s autonomy and civil liberties.
“We see people who are, again, in Hong Kong standing up for their own rights, the rights that they felt were guaranteed to them. And if … they’re the victims of repression from Chinese authorities, we should do something to give them haven.”
The Chinese Communist Party has drawn international condemnation over its imposition of a national security law last summer, which led to the arrests of dozens of pro-democracy figures in the city.
In response to Beijing’s clampdown, Britain has allowed Hong Kong residents to stay in the UK for up to five years, and then apply for permanent residency. Canada last year also announced measures to remove some barriers for Hongkongers applying for asylum.
In December, a bill to grant temporary refuge for Hongkongers in the United States was blocked in the Senate after Ted Cruz (R-Texas) objected to the motion, arguing that the law could be exploited by Beijing to send spies to the country. The bill had earlier passed the House unanimously.
Blinken also criticized the Chinese regime’s continued lack of transparency in regards to the pandemic.
“There is no doubt that, especially when COVID-19 first hit, but even today, China is falling far short of the mark when it comes to providing the information necessary to the international community, making sure that experts have access to China,” he said in the interview.
The secretary added: “I think the focus we have to have is both getting full understanding and accountability for what happened—and there’s an investigation that’s going on right now—but especially making sure we’re putting in place measures to prevent a recurrence.”
A World Health Organization team is currently in the central Chinese city of Wuhan investigating the origins of the pandemic, more than a year after an outbreak first emerged in the city. Some observers have expressed skepticism that the probe will not find much, given the Chinese Communist Party’s history of covering up issues that may embarrass the regime.
Blinken also said the administration is reviewing U.S. tariffs on more than $300 billion worth of Chinese goods that were imposed during the Trump administration.
“We have to make sure that any time we act, the first question we ask ourselves is: Is this advancing the interests of our own people? Is it making them more prosperous? Is it advancing their security? Is it extending their values?” he said.
“When it comes to something like a tariff, is it doing more harm to us than it is to the country they’re being wielded against? That’s the question we’re asking.”