Helen Raleigh: Welcome Hong Kong political refugees – 3 reasons US should act now

President Trump announced on Friday that he has directed his administration to "begin the process of eliminating policy exemptions that give Hong Kong different and special  treatment." This means a wide range of agreements between the U.S. and Hong Kong, from and extradition treaty to trade policies, will be affected.

His announcement came a day after China's National People's Congress (NPC) rubber-stamped a national security law drafted by the Chinese government. The law seeks to ban “treason, secession, sedition and subversion.” But it is so broadly defined and vaguely worded that it will greatly expand the CCP's control over Hong Kong by criminalizing Hongkongers for exercising their basic rights to free speech and free assembly.

The fact that Beijing chose to bypass Hong Kong's legislature to impose such a controversial law on the people of Hong Kong effectively ends the "One Country, Two Systems" framework, which was supposed to guarantee Hong Kong's political autonomy from Beijing fo 50 years. Beijing's action and announcement have drawn international outcry and condemnation.

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As Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement, "No reasonable person can assert today that Hong Kong maintains a high degree of autonomy from China, given facts on the ground." To fulfill his duty required by the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act (HRDA) mandate, Pompeo informed the U.S. Congress on Wednesday, "Hong Kong is no longer autonomous from China."

Based on Pompeo's recommendation, President Trump instructed his administration now to revoke Hong Kong’s preferential treatment as a separate customs and travel territory from the rest of China. Trump also said his administration will sanction individuals and officials from both the Communist China and Hong Kong who are responsible for eroding Hong Kong's autonomy.

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Beijing's breach of  international treaty in Hong Kong certainly warrants such strong responses from the U.S. The Trump administration's actions are welcomed by pro-democracy Hongkongers. In addition to imposing these punitive measures, the Trump administration should also consider humanitarian assistance to Hong Kong by laying out a welcome mat for freedom-loving Hong Kongers.

There are three good reasons for the U.S. to do so.

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First, Hong Kong people meet the refugee definition. The U.N. Refugee Agency defines refugee as someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war or violence. Hong Kong was once one of the freest places in the world, but now it is a police state.

Amnesty International has documented Hong Kong police's brutality against protesters, including arbitrary arrests, brutal beatings and evidence of torture during detention. In recent weeks, Hong Kong police indiscriminately arrested and detained hundreds of peaceful Hong Kongers, most of whom are young people and some who never even participated in any protests. Beijing already said it would send security agents to Hong Kong to help enforce the national security law.

It has become increasingly clear that it is next to impossible for Hong Kongers to exercise their rights to speech and assembly without the fear of persecution. Freedom-loving, pro-democracy Hong Kongers have to find a new home because their beloved city is no longer safe for them.

Second, when the U.S. removes Hong Kong's special treatment, it will cause economic pain on Communist China, but it's the Hong Kong people who will suffer the most. Hong Kong’s economy already declined after months of unrest in 2019 and the coronavirus outbreak in the first half of 2020.

Hong Kongers' knowledge, skills, work ethic and their devotion to freedom will make them a good addition to our great nation. They will no doubt enrich any community that welcomes them with open arms.

Losing special economic status and facing the U.S. economic sanctions will likely prompt mainland Chinese businesses and international businesses to move their operations, transactions and trade to other places, taking capital and jobs with them. Hong Kong people will be left to suffer economic hardship. If they want a better life for themselves and their families, they have to pack up and leave.

Third, welcoming Hong Kongers benefits the United States too. Hong Kongers are well-educated. Since English is an official language in the city, many Hong Kongers are already used to communicating in English on a daily basis. Hong Kongers are also industrious, creative and resourceful. They successfully transformed Hong Kong from a small fishing village into an international financial and trade center and one of the wealthiest places in the world.

Most importantly, Hong Kongers are well-versed in democracy and have a deep appreciation for political freedom. They often look up to the U.S. for inspiration. More than once, we have seen them wave American flags and heard them sing the American anthem during their protests.

Their peaceful mass demonstrations, last summer especially, demonstrated their dignity and maturity as responsible citizens, serving as a powerful rebuttal to Beijing’s assertion that western democracy is incompatible with Chinese people and culture. Hong Kongers' knowledge, skills, work ethic and their devotion to freedom will make them a good addition to our great nation. They will no doubt enrich any community that welcomes them with open arms.

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The British government is reportedly already working on a migration plan that would allow some Hong Kongers to settle in the United Kingdom. It's time for the Trump administration to join our closest ally in this noble effort and designate a special process to speed up the application and approval process for any Hong Kongers seeking political asylum in the United States.

It is in our nation's DNA to serve the unique role of being “the last best hope of earth,” in the words of Abraham Lincoln, for freedom-loving people around the world. People of Hong Kong are at the front line fighting against tyranny. They simply wish to have what we Americans know very well: freedom and the right to self-determination. The United States can and should help them. Let's welcome them to our land of the free.

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