Hong Kong

Hong Kong Is in Trouble. Let Its People Escape China by Coming to America.

It would be smart foreign policy and beneficial to the U.S. economy.

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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.

Wong has already had a taste of what it's like to lose your civil liberties. He was arrested in his home in 2019 in an effort to undermine a large protest planned for the following day. And he was barred from running for office because of his political party's stated belief that Hongkongers should be allowed to determine the city's sovereignty by democratic vote.

"After the national security law [passed], I'm [no longer] arrested by Hong Kong police…but by Beijing-appointed agent of the secret police….I might be imprisoned in Beijing," says Wong. "So I think that's a nightmare for activists in Hong Kong and also journalists who fight for freedom."

What if, before that happens, Wong and other activists had the option to get out?

Even immigration hawks within the Trump administration, Somin argues, should appreciate that granting automatic entry to Hongkongers would be a politically savvy move against the Chinese state.

Horrified by the difficulties faced by displaced Jews during and after World War II, President Harry Truman launched America's first refugee program, starting with a 1945 executive order followed by the Displaced Persons Act of 1948.

America granted similar status to refugees from the Soviet Union, starting in 1953, and communist Cuba, starting in 1966. Somin's own parents left the USSR for America in 1979, when he was five.

"The U.S. government at the time recognized that part of the reason to do this was to help oppressed people for its own sake, but they also recognized that it was an important moral victory for the U.S. in the Cold War struggle against the Soviet Union," says Somin.

Somin's Jewish family was considered a persecuted ethnic minority, but he believes all Hongkongers faced with the loss of their freedoms should be given the opportunity to exit.

Another Hongkonger at risk is Sixtus Baggio Leung, whom voters elected in 2016 to the Hong Kong Legislative Council. He lost his position after showing up at his swearing-in ceremony draped in a banner that read, "Hong Kong is not a part of China."

In 2018, the government sentenced Leung to four weeks in prison after convicting him of illegally trying to re-enter the legislature to re-take his oaths.

China's new law unambiguously criminalizes Leung's pro-independence views.

"If Hong Kong [remains] under the rule of [the Chinese Communist Party], we can never achieve universal suffrage, separation of powers, freedom of speech…all kinds of freedom," says Leung.

Somin wants the U.S. to go farther than the U.K. by extending to Hongkongers, and eventually all Chinese dissidents, an offer of permanent residency, but he acknowledges it's an uphill battle with an anti-immigration administration in power.

"There really is no [immigration] line right now. Trump has virtually shut down letting in virtually any refugees of any kind," says Somin.

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; "Hong Kong Protests," by Studio Incendo.

NEXT: My Jotwell Review of Lindsay Wiley and Steve Vladeck's "Coronavirus, Civil Liberties, and the Courts"

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  1. If Trump enacted a protester exchange program with China, IMO that would instantly put him in the top 10 presidents of all time.

    1. China isn’t that dumb

      1. One could always hope, Nardz. I love the idea. Maybe POTUS Trump can make that deal.

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      2. If it were a small number, China might go for it for PR value. If our protesters became too much of a nuisance, they know how to deal with that.

    2. The thought of jackbooted Chinese police braining pasty Antifa jackasses brings warm feelings to my heart.

    3. He should offer ten of our progtards for every Hong Kong Freedom protester. We could really clean out this country.

    4. Think win-win!

      They’re communists! They belong in China!

  2. Well, as long as they don’t come in over the southern border – – – – – – – – – –

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  4. Umm, wouldn’t the Chinese government have to let them leave?

    1. I was wondering that as well. Would the PRC let the productive folks take their skills and money out of the country at all? Or would we end up with another Mariel boatlift full of criminals and folks with no skills?

      1. The money is already leaving. The people will be close behind.

      2. They would find ways to leave. There are always government officials ready to look the other way for a fee.

  5. Precisely.

    Whenever there is unrest anywhere on the planet, the Koch / Reason solution is to import the entire population of the troubled region into the US. Not only is it the humanitarian thing to do, it’s also in the financial interests of our benefactor Charles Koch.

    #OpenTheBordersToHelpCharlesKoch

    1. This isn’t even satire

    2. With a sane immigration policy, with yearly limits on immigration, and taking the best candidates for America, people from Hong Kong would be at the top of my list.

      I’d probably take them all, and take them now, as long as their immigration was applied to fill future year quotas.

      I’m a little worried about CCP infiltration, but I assume that once free, the Hong Kongers would identify the moles.

  6. And let them bring in the Kung Fu Flu? Fuck that Zack… they had like 4 new cases yesterday. What do you have? A deathwish or something? Geesch.

    1. “Kung Fu Flu”

      just “KungFlu” screech, you stupidly unfunny fuck

      1. Can’t pay his mortgage, can make a decent joke……..

  7. They should go to Canada.

    1. Why not? The other half of Hong Kong moved there in the late 90’s.

  8. I have relatives living in HK – Kowloon, not the Island. People who were granted permission to emigrate from the mainland to the colony after 1997 were given that permission because of their loyalty to the CCP. Don’t let them in with the others.
    Use some little amount of discretion.

    1. The easiest discretion is “no.”

    2. CCP infiltration is my only worry, but I assume the Hong Kongers can finger them.

  9. No. I don’t want to deprive other needy countries of their genius. Send them to Liberia.

    1. But how would immigration to Australia benefit Charles Koch? Does he own factories there?

  10. Maybe we should stop funding their oppression by buying Chinese products?

    1. No no no John we are funding their freedom everyone knows the completely free trade China engages in totally ended Chinese oppression of their citizens.

      Complicit? No way, my cheap Chinese garbage is for freedom you rube.

    2. Dear Reason Eds.

      What kind of libertarian website let’s this right-wing reactionary troll puke all over its message boards? I mean, where is the moderation here? Jesus Christ!

      1. Lol you’re just upset that you got banned for posting kiddie porn screech lololl

      2. There is no external moderation in libertarianism. It allows free minds and your freedom to rebut.

      3. Socialist says “Wah! Where’s my safespace?”

    3. Reason: Freedom is profiting from offshore slave labor.

  11. There are approximately 7.5 million people in Hong Kong. Even if they all hate communism and wanted to come here, I don’t think it would be enough [of voting age for sure] to save California.

    1. You assume they wouldn’t vote Dem.

  12. Boy I hope they come to theBay Area. The propertay values around here would skyrocket and make me even richer than OBL, who seems obsessed by class envy of the Kocheses. Fuck that guy.

    1. If you’re so rich why couldn’t you muster the money to pay your bet screech?

      Lolololo

      1. I don’t think AmSoc and PB are the same person. As far as I know, AmSoc is only guilty of being a communist traitor, and defaulting on his mortgage.

    2. Yeah, and there in a nutshell do we have an example of the reasons for Democrats pushing for legal and illegal immigration: simple, short term, selfish financial reasons. Chinese and other (im)migrants prop up real estate bubbles, fill the overcapacity in US universities, and/or work for less than Americans. People in places like the Bay Area profit and the rest of the country has to pay and live with the consequences.

  13. What makes you think Hong Kongers would want to leave Hong Kong and come to America?

    1. Because they don’t want to end up in CCP reeducation camps as sterilized organ donors.

      1. “Sterilized organ donors”? They can transplant your junk now?

  14. Not a good idea, in the middle of a super-dangerous pandemic!

  15. “Hong Kong Is in Trouble. Let Its People Escape China by Coming to America.”

    No, no, and no again.
    These ungrateful capitalists in Hong Kong should welcome the oppression given to them by their kind, understanding and tolerant betters in Beijing.
    For too long the people have lived under a tyrannical regime that allowed free speech, capitalism, due process and a host of other political maladies that only spoiled and debased them into millionaires and billionaires.
    Fortunately for them, the ruling elites in China have come to their rescue, and will liberate them from the shackles of too much money and freedom. These people of Hong Kong should stay there and enjoys all the joys and wonders a totalitarian communist regime has to offer them.
    Oh, if only America could be so fortunate as these people of Hong Kong. Then, we too, will be able to enjoy the blissful wonders of gulags, firing squads, re-education camps, terror, oppression, mass murder and a failed economy.

    1. Yah, look around you. The gulags, re-education camps, terror (municipal terror) oppression is well on it’s way, right here.

  16. I would welcome immigration from Hong Kong. These are the kind of people we need – educated, hard working and entrepreneurial. The contrast with the massive illegal immigration we have been suffering under is we have no idea who we are letting in currently. Hard working people? Come on in. Criminals? No thanks, we have enough home grown crooks already.

    1. We should focus on bringing more hot young women from other countries. I think that a plan we can all get behind.

  17. Sell a couple of nukes to the right people in Hong Kong. I promise the Chinese Government will leave them alone.

    1. There are certainly people in HK who could afford to buy a warhead or ten from Pakistan.

      -jcr

  18. We’ll support any other people’s wanting independence. Now if some want to break away from the US…not so much.

    We still OWN territories that do not have the same rights as States.

  19. So we should let in millions of people to immigrate to the USA in s span of maybe one year, in the age of pandemic when brick and mortar business will decline and housing situation will be uncertain. I know it’s cool to think of Asians as STEM wunderkinds, but most of them will need jobs in Boba shops and Korean BBQ joints to make a living. Most of them will go to CA, TX, and maybe NY. They ain’t going to no Wyoming.

    When it comes to immigration, libertarians trap themselves into an echo chamber and float tons of facile agendas. The moral imperative would be to stand up to China as they violate national sovereignty and bully their neighbors. We should have admitted Jewish refugees in WW2. We also smashed Hitler and Nazis.

    “Just let them come here” is impractical and won’t resolve anything long term. What China won’t let them leave, or freeze assess so they can’t be moved to US to fund new lives? “Oh well, we tried, if we do anything else it hurts free trade and free exchange of goods, shrug what can we do”

    China released a virus that killed 130,000 Americans. Their soldiers killed 20 plus Indian counters near the border. At this point, I would just rather pay a dollar more for toaster to maybe depend less on Chinese imports.

  20. Here’s a better idea, a libertarian idea: stay out of it. Neither Hong Kong nor China are our business and these people come from a different culture with different values. A significant portion of Hong Kong Chinese view Westerners as brutish and racially inferior, and another would simply be hand-picked Chinese communist infiltrators.

    1. A significant portion of Hong Kong Chinese view Westerners as brutish and racially inferior

      Nah, they just think that about you as an individual, Adolf.

      -jcr

      1. So you are saying that there is no significant number of Chinese who thinks of their culture and their ethnic group superior to the West My, you really are naive and ignorant of the world.

        And as a nice touch, you also denounce people as Nazis for no reason whatsoever.

  21. My challenge to the Left who champion unfettered immigration is to show your support for migrants by forcing change in the Marxist countries from which they are fleeing, NOT the tyrannical regimes themselves.

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  25. We should let in white South Africans first. They are in much more immediate danger than Hong Kongers.

  26. Hong Kong Is in Trouble. Let Its People Escape China by Coming to America.

    no.

  27. They already are here, Zach

    Ever wonder how many million $+ homes have been paid for in cash (often just being illegal money laundering) from Hong Kong banks? Probably not – you are loking for Free Market Religion and not what is actually going on.

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  30. “Let them escape to America”…???

    We don’t have enough of our own problems here? Not enough homeless, destitute and unemployed here already, we need to import more??? And who’s going to support them and pay for all their socialist services?????
    The whole freaking planet can’t fit in America! Let them turn around and fight the tyrants like we had to.

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