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While the rest of the world is distracted by the COVID-19 pandemic, China has moved to consolidate its control over Hong Kong. The United States should respond by allowing Hongkongers to immigrate to America immediately.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced this week that America no longer recognizes Hong Kong as being autonomous from China—effectively ending the so-called "one country, two systems" policy that has been in place since Hong Kong rejoined China in 1997. That has huge implications for trade and immigration, two areas where Washington's agreements with Hong Kong differed from how it treated the rest of China. Pompeo's announcement comes after months of unrest in Hong Kong sparked by China's attempt to pass legislation curtailing the civil liberties and political freedoms enjoyed by residents of the city.
The State Department has threatened to impose sanctions on China for its actions against Hong Kong. That is woefully inadequate. With the freedom of Hongkongers under direct assault, the United States should throw open its doors to accept any of the city's residents who need a place to go.
There are a few ways this could work. It could be as easy as a blanket policy that grants asylum to any resident of Hong Kong who arrives in the United States. It could take the form of a special visa that would allow Hongkongers to settle in American counties where the population is shrinking, with permanent residency granted after five years, as Vox's Matthew Yglesias has proposed. It could even go as far as giving Hongkongers a direct pathway to citizenship, along the lines of what Britain is reportedly considering.
Any of those ideas would do more to counter China's assault on Hong Kong than sanctions (or, knowing how President Donald Trump operates, more tariffs). And the Chinese government knows it: Beijing has already threatened Britain over its proposed exit strategy for residents of Hong Kong. Hundreds of thousands of people fleeing Beijing's rule would be an international embarrassment for China—and, more importantly, it would be a huge economic blow. Instead of seizing one of the richest and most economically vibrant city on the planet, China would be absorbing a shell of a once-great place.
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