TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The top American diplomat said Monday (Feb. 1, EST) that he supports accepting political refugees from Hong Kong as Beijing continues to tighten its grip in that city, saying China must be met with strength.
In his first interview as secretary of state, Antony Blinken on Monday (Feb. 1) discussed with MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell the foreign policy challenges facing the nascent Biden administration, from Russian interference to North Korea's nuclear ambitions.
Citing Blinken's statement in his Senate confirmation hearing last month that China poses the "most significant threat" to U.S. interests, Mitchell asked, "Would you take steps if there is any action by China against Taiwan?" She then asked whether he considered "military confrontation" a possibility.
Blinken did not directly respond to the Taiwan question but stressed that while the U.S.-China relationship is complicated — with "adversarial," "competitive," as well as "cooperative" facets to it — the U.S. must deal with China from a position of strength. He added that this strength derives from "strong alliances," which he said is an advantage the U.S. has over its East Asian rival.
The diplomat warned that when the U.S. vacates its position in world affairs, it is China that fills the void and in so doing creates the rules and norms of international institutions. He further stated that the U.S. must defend its values where they are under attack by China, including in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, invest in the American people to make them more competitive, and adopt a military posture to "deter Chinese aggression."
Mitchell asked Blinken if the U.S. should follow the U.K. in letting in political refugees from Hong Kong, where Beijing continues to erode freedoms and round up those voicing support for democracy. "I believe we should," he answered, and proceeded to blast China for violating its pledge in the Sino British Joint Declaration to maintain Hong Kong's autonomy for 50 years following the handover of the city in 1997. He observed that the people of Hong Kong have been fighting for their rights, saying of them:
"If they're the victims of repression from Chinese authorities, we should do something to give them haven."
Hongkongers are already fleeing in droves.
After the imposition of the draconian national security law in Hong Kong last summer, London announced a visa plan that would allow as many as 5.4 million Hongkongers with a British National Overseas (BNO) passport, as well as their dependents, to move to the U.K. for five years with a pathway to citizenship. The country has seen 7,000 Hongkongers resettle in the U.K since July, and it expects approximately 300,000 to do so over a five-year period.
The British Home Office opened the visa on Sunday (Jan. 31). That same day, the Chinese government struck back by saying it would cease recognizing the BNO passports. Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian (趙立堅) said that "by trying to turn many Hong Kong residents into "second-class citizens in the U.K., the British side has discarded the mutual understanding on the BNO between China and the U.K." Zhao said Beijing may take further actions.
However, it is unclear whether China's derecognition of BNO passports will have any tangible effect, as Hongkongers have no reason to use this document when traveling in Chinese territory.
An American State Department spokesperson told Hong Kong's 眾新聞 Citizen News that the BNO passport would continue to be accepted for visas and travel in the U.S.