China Slams U.S. Visa Offer For Hong Kong, as Canada Warns Over Exit Bans

Canada updates its travel advice to warn citizens that they could be prevented from leaving the city for any number of legal reasons.
2021-08-06
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China Slams U.S. Visa Offer For Hong Kong, as Canada Warns Over Exit Bans
AFP

China on Friday hit out at Washington's offer of a visa safe haven for Hong Kong residents seeking to avoid a widening crackdown on peaceful dissent and political opposition under a national security law, as Canada warned its citizens they could be prevented from leaving Hong Kong under new immigration rules.

A foreign ministry spokesperson in Hong Kong "condemned and firmly opposed" the Aug. 5 offer, which was made due to "the significant erosion" of rights and freedoms in Hong Kong by the Chinese government, according to statement from U.S. President Joe Biden.

"By unilaterally imposing on Hong Kong the Law of the People's Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, the People's Republic of China has undermined the enjoyment of rights and freedoms in Hong Kong," Biden said.

He cited the "politically motivated arrests" of more than 100 opposition politicians, activists and protestors on charges under the national security law, including allegations of secession, subversion and terrorist activities, with more than 10,000 arrested under pre-existing laws for their part in the protest movement.

China's foreign ministry spokesperson said the national security law had "restored stability" in the city following the 2019 protest movement and only targets "a small number of anti-China, destabilizing forces in Hong Kong."

Hong Kong law enforcement agencies have arrested 117 people for suspected violations of the law, of whom 64 are being prosecuted, the foreign ministry spokesperson said in a statement on the website of the ministry's Hong Kong office.

"The United States fabricated lies to slander the National Security Law [and] sugarcoated anti-China, destabilizing forces in Hong Kong," it said. "In doing so ... the U.S. [stands] with ... a small group of anti-China, destabilizing forces in Hong Kong."

Under the new visa arrangements known as "deferred enforced departure," Hong Kong residents currently in the United States may remain for 18 months, and will be allowed to work during that time.

Hong Kong's government also hit out at the move, saying that anyone seeking to avoid arrest in Hong Kong under the law is a "fugitive offender."

"Anyone who violates the law should be responsible for his or her own behavior," a government spokesman said. "People who are wanted for prosecution and who have fled Hong Kong are fugitive offenders."

"The [Hong Kong] government will pursue the absconders' legal liabilities in accordance with the law to ensure that offenders will face justice," he said.

Exit ban warning

Biden's announcement came as the Canadian government updated its travel advice for Hong Kong, warning that anyone in the city can now be prevented from leaving under a newly amended immigration law that took effect on Aug. 1.

"Hong Kong authorities may prevent specific individuals from leaving the territory. In the absence of clarifying legislation, these new powers may relate to investigations into an individual, their family or an employer, and criminal and civil matters," the advice on an official government website said.

"You may not be aware that you are the subject of movement restrictions until you try to leave Hong Kong. It may be difficult to obtain information on movement restrictions from local authorities," the advice warned.

A Hong Kong security spokesman said the amendments were linked to the international Advanced Passenger Information system, and didn't affect the freedom to travel, saying that Canada had put out a "false and misleading statement."

The amended bill, which took effect on Aug. 1, includes a clause enabling border guards to prevent a person from boarding a flight or any other form of transportation out of the city, paving the way for exit bans on any of Hong Kong's seven million residents or even on visiting foreign nationals.

The amendment to Section 6A "empower[s] the Director [of Immigration] to direct that a passenger or a member of the crew of a carrier may or may not be carried on board the carrier," according to copies of the draft amendments posted online by the government.

The Hong Kong Bar Association (HKBA) called in February for the law to make it clear that the Secretary of Security's powers (via the Director of Immigration) didn't include barring someone from boarding a flight or other form of transport leaving Hong Kong.

But the bill was eventually passed into law with no such amendment in place.

The HKBA's view had been that the law  "could have the effect of barring Hong Kong residents from boarding an aircraft or any other means of transportation either coming to or departing from Hong Kong."

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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