U.S. lawmakers urge State Department to block HK Chief Executive from attending APEC summit in San Francisco

From left to right: Chris Smith, John Lee and Marco Rubio.

8th June 2023 – (Washington) On 7th June, a bipartisan group of U.S. representatives and senators sent a letter to the State Department, urging them to reconsider their decision to invite Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee, who is under U.S. sanctions, to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit scheduled for November in San Francisco.

In a joint letter to the State Department, four Democratic and Republican lawmakers expressed their disappointment at the prospect of granting Lee a waiver from the sanctions and allowing him to enter the United States to attend the APEC summit. They argued that such an invitation would be an insult to those who have suffered persecution at the hands of the Chinese Communist Party, the People’s Republic of China, and their proxies in Hong Kong.

Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman had previously told the Senate in February that the U.S. planned to invite Lee to the APEC meeting. However, she noted that attendance at the event would not absolve him of his role in undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy and eroding the protected rights and freedoms of its citizens.

As of yesterday, the State Department claimed that the summit’s guest list had not yet been finalised.

The bipartisan letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken was signed by Republican Senator Marco Rubio, Republican Representative Chris Smith, Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley, and Democratic Representative Jim McGovern. They highlighted Lee’s use of violence against peaceful protestors opposing the oppressive national security law during his tenure as Hong Kong’s secretary of security.

Critics state that the national security law, imposed by Beijing in 2020, has been utilised to broaden the persecution of journalists, human rights activists, and pro-democracy advocates in Hong Kong. In response, the U.S. added Lee to a list of 11 people sanctioned for their roles in undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy and restricting its citizens’ freedom of expression and assembly. Lee can now only enter the U.S. if he receives a waiver from the State Department.

As San Francisco prepares to host the APEC summit, the debate over Lee’s attendance has resurfaced. The event is expected to be attended by leaders of the 21 member economies, including U.S. President Joe Biden. Hong Kong has been a member of APEC since 1991, and Lee has expressed interest in attending this year’s meeting.

Last week, Lee argued that APEC is an international organisation and not beholden to any specific country or economy. He said that the organizers have a responsibility to invite members to attend in accordance with APEC’s rules and conventions.

The State Department has stated that the decision regarding Lee’s invitation will be made in accordance with US laws and regulations, as well as the spirit and principles of APEC.

In a letter sent to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in February, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman explained that the US intended to invite Lee to APEC because it was essential to promote regional economic dialogue and maintain global macroeconomic stability in cooperation with the People’s Republic of China. However, she also emphasised that an invitation would not absolve individuals of their actions in undermining protected rights and freedoms in Hong Kong.

The four lawmakers who signed the letter to Blinken on June 7th disagree with this approach, urging the State Department to reconsider Lee’s invitation to the APEC summit.