China's new national security law imperils Hongkongers' civil liberties. Give them the option of coming to America. Watch our new video with @ilyasomin and @joshuawongcf.
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Hong Kong is a bastion of free expression, art, culture, and commerce. While mainland China was being ravaged by Mao's Cultural Revolution in the 1960s, Hong Kong was still a British colony and home to a radical experiment in free market capitalism. By the time partial control was handed over to the Chinese government, creating the infamous one-country/two-systems model, per capita wealth here had eclipsed that of even the U.K.
That experiment may be coming to an abrupt end. China's People's Congress adopted a national security law that would allow the central government, which is controlled by the Chinese Communist Party, to clamp down on civil liberties, destroying the political freedom that made this semi-autonomous city a desirable place to live.
The U.S. government has threatened to revoke Hong Kong's special trading partner status and to levy targeted sanctions to oppose Beijing's actions. But there's another foreign policy lever the government could pull that's nonviolent, humane, and beneficial to U.S. citizens: Make it easier for Hongkongers to leave by welcoming them into America.
"Not only would it be good for them, but it would also be good for the West," says Ilya Somin, a law professor at George Mason University, a contributor to the Volokh Conspiracy legal blog, and the author of a new book, Free to Move: Foot Voting, Migration, and Political Freedom. He argues that the U.S. should have an open-door policy to Hongkongers, and eventually to mainland Chinese dissidents as well. The United Kingdom has already announced plans to extend visas for up to 3 million fleeing Hongkongers.
"They would make important contributions to our economies, just as previous Chinese and Hong Kong immigrants and others from that part of the world have done," says Somin. "Second, this would be a very important victory in the war of ideas that is arising between the U.S. and the West and the one hand and the authoritarian government of China on the other."
Those who could benefit most from such an escape hatch are critics of the Chinese Communist Party, such as Joshua Wong, secretary-general of the pro-democracy political party Demosisto.
"I would summarize this national security law as a speech crime," says Wong, who worries that calling for the resignation of Chinese President Xi Jinping would subject the speaker to arrest, prosecution, and imprisonment on the Chinese mainland.
The Trump administration has been dismantling the refugee system, first by capping the number of people allowed in from Syria and other Middle Eastern countries, and then with his "Remain in Mexico" policy, which forces those applying for refugee status to wait outside the country. Most recently, he has suspended the issuance of high-skilled H1B visas.
Politico reports that a component of the GOP's 2020 election strategy is to make an aggressive stance towards China a central issue and portray their opponents as "soft on China." Somin says this presents an opportunity.
"If they're real China hawks, then they should welcome this opportunity to both get some of China's most talented people to come here, as opposed to stay in China, where they will be under the control of that government—and, at the same time, win an important moral and political victory," says Somin.
Wong, however, has no immediate plans to leave Hong Kong. He says he's hanging around to resist the Communist Party's takeover of his city for as long as he can.
"I have no hope towards the government, but I still have hope [for] the people and the global community to keep our momentum and let Beijing realize that we will never stop our fight," says Wong.
Produced by Zach Weissmueller. Hong Kong footage by Edwin Lee. Graphics by Isaac Reese.
Music credits: "Corals Under the Sun," by Sivan Talmor; "Spongy Hammer," by Muted; "40 Years Ago," by Muted. Licensed through Artlist.
Photo credits: "Boris Johnson pointing," by Jack Hill/The Times/ZUMA Press/Newscom; "Trump at the podium," by Polaris/Newscom; "Trump at the border wall," Everett Collection/Newscom; "Joshua Wong at the podium," by STEPHEN SHAVER/Newscom; "Joshua Wong mural," by Thierry Ehrmann; "Trump and Xi handshake," by Kyodo/Newscom; "Xi smiles at Trump," by Kyodo/Newscom; "Chinese police officers," Imagine China/Newscom; "Xi at the podium," by CHINE NOUVELLE/SIPA/Newscom; "Joshua Wong speaking to press," by Studio Incendo.