Dear President Biden,
We write to express grave concern about reports that the United States government is considering granting a sanctions waiver to allow John Lee, the Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, to enter the U.S. for the upcoming Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting, set to be held in San Francisco in November.
We express our unequivocal opposition to the lifting of sanctions or granting of a sanctions exemption, and we demand a prompt and clear statement from the Biden Administration that it will not allow John Lee to attend the APEC summit.
Under no circumstances should Lee, a sanctioned human rights abuser, be allowed to set foot on American soil. If that were to occur, it would render the sanctions on him effectively meaningless and damage confidence in the U.S. commitment to freedom and human rights in Hong Kong.
Over the last four years, John Lee has been a key architect of the draconian crackdown on political and civil liberties and the undermining of Hong Kong’s autonomy. As Secretary for Security during the 2019 pro-democracy movement, Lee presided over the crushing of mass protests through the excessive use of force by police and the arbitrary arrests of more than 10,000 citizens. In 2020, the United States sanctioned John Lee for this conduct.
Since Lee was appointed Chief Executive by the Chinese government in May 2022, he has overseen the drastic curtailing of freedoms of expression, association, and assembly, relentless attacks on the rule of law, and the effective abolition of the right to political participation. More thanlanguish behind bars in Hong Kong. The number continues to rise. The systemic crackdown is ongoing. Against this reality, waiving sanctions to allow Lee into the U.S. would send the exact wrong signal that human rights violations will not be met with lasting consequences.
There is strong precedent for not inviting Lee. Just last year, the Biden Administration excluded Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela from the Summit of the Americas over concerns about human rights abuses and a lack of democracy in those countries.
In regard to APEC specifically, it is already the case that not all leaders attend: Taiwan’s president is never invited, likely out of deference to China. Hong Kong—unlike Taiwan—is under the full control of the Chinese government, which would attend the gathering. This leaves no justification for Lee’s attendance, especially given the fact that he is sanctioned.
We are also concerned that any temporary or permanent waiving of sanctions on Lee would set a troubling precedent for future dealings with human rights abusers, opening the door for further exceptions to be made. In addition to this, there have been signs that Western resolve on Hong Kong is weakening, such as recent high-level meetings with ministers in the SAR government. This makes it all the more important for the United States to stand firm and set a good example to the rest of the world.
As human rights defenders, we are grateful that the administration and both parties have consistently shown their support for us in our freedom struggle. Just yesterday, a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators issued acondemning the government-led campaign of repression in Hong Kong. But now is the moment of truth: The Biden administration must affirm its commitment to human rights and democratic values. We are counting on you to do the right thing.
(Undersigned groups listed in alphabetical order)
1. 7 October Movement
2. Arizona for Hong Kong
3. Campaign for Uyghurs
4. Center for Civil Liberties
5. Chicago Solidarity with Hong Kong
6. China Aid Association
8. Citizen Power Initiatives for China
9. Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong Foundation
10. DC4HK (Washingtonians Supporting Hong Kong)
11. European Belarus Foundation
13. Freiheit für Hongkong e.V.
14. Grupo de Apoio ao Tibete-Portugal
16. Hong Kong Affairs Association of Berkeley
17. Hong Kong Collaborative Academic Network (HKCAN)
18. Hong Kong Democracy Council
19. Hong Kong Forum, Los Angeles
20. Hong Kong Professional Network
21. Hong Kong Rule of Law Monitor 香港法治監察
22. Hong Kong Social Action Movements in Boston
23. Hong Kong Watch
24. Hong Kongers in San Diego
25. Hong Kongers in San Francisco Bay Area
26. Hongkongers in Britain
27. Human Rights Watch
28. International Tibet Network
29. Lamp of Liberty
30. Lion Rock Café
32. New York University Hong Kong Student Advocacy Group
33. New Yorkers Supporting Hong Kong (NY4HK)
34. Northern California Hong Kong Club
35. Penn State Students For Hong Kong
38. Revive South Sudan
40. SEArious For HKG
41. Stand with Hong Kong
42. Students for a Free Tibet
43. Students For Hong Kong
44. Swiss Tibetan Friendship Association
45. The Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD)
46. The Uyghur Human Rights Project
47. Tibet Solidarity
48. UCSD Hong Kong Cultural Society
50. US HongKongers Club
51. Victims of Communism Foundation
52. We The Hongkongers
53. World Liberty Congress