Open Letter to President Biden on Sanctioned John Lee’s Potential Entry Into the U.S.

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Open Letter to President Biden on Sanctioned John Lee’s Potential Entry Into the U.S.


The Honorable Joseph R. Biden, Jr.

President of the United States

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Ave, NW

Washington, DC 20500

Cc: The Hon. Antony Blinken, Secretary of State; The Hon. Derek H. Chollet, Counselor of the U.S. Department of State; The Hon. Uzra Zeya, Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights; The Hon. Daniel Kritenbrink, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs; The Hon. Scott Busby, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

Dear President Biden,

We, the undersigned Hong Kong diaspora organizations and our allies, write to express grave concern about reports that the United States government is considering granting a sanctions waiver to allow John Lee, the Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, to enter the U.S. for the upcoming Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting, set to be held in San Francisco in November. 

We express our unequivocal opposition to the lifting of sanctions or granting of a sanctions exemption, and we demand a prompt and clear statement from the Biden Administration that it will not allow John Lee to attend the APEC summit.

Under no circumstances should Lee, a sanctioned human rights abuser, be allowed to set foot on American soil. If that were to occur, it would render the sanctions on him effectively meaningless and damage confidence in the U.S. commitment to freedom and human rights in Hong Kong. 

Over the last four years, John Lee has been a key architect of the draconian crackdown on political and civil liberties and the undermining of Hong Kong’s autonomy. As Secretary for Security during the 2019 pro-democracy movement, Lee presided over the crushing of mass protests through the excessive use of force by police and the arbitrary arrests of more than 10,000 citizens. In 2020, the United States sanctioned John Lee for this conduct. 

Since Lee was appointed Chief Executive by the Chinese government in May 2022, he has overseen the drastic curtailing of freedoms of expression, association, and assembly, relentless attacks on the rule of law, and the effective abolition of the right to political participation. More than 1,500 political prisoners languish behind bars in Hong Kong. The number continues to rise. The systemic crackdown is ongoing. Against this reality, waiving sanctions to allow Lee into the U.S. would send the exact wrong signal that human rights violations will not be met with lasting consequences.

There is strong precedent for not inviting Lee. Just last year, the Biden Administration excluded Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela from the Summit of the Americas over concerns about human rights abuses and a lack of democracy in those countries. 

In regard to APEC specifically, it is already the case that not all leaders attend: Taiwan’s president is never invited, likely out of deference to China. Hong Kong—unlike Taiwan—is under the full control of the Chinese government, which would attend the gathering. This leaves no justification for Lee’s attendance, especially given the fact that he is sanctioned.

We are also concerned that any temporary or permanent waiving of sanctions on Lee would set a troubling precedent for future dealings with human rights abusers, opening the door for further exceptions to be made. In addition to this, there have been signs that Western resolve on Hong Kong is weakening, such as recent high-level meetings with ministers in the SAR government. This makes it all the more important for the United States to stand firm and set a good example to the rest of the world.

As human rights defenders, we are grateful that the administration and both parties have consistently shown their support for us in our freedom struggle. Just yesterday, a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators issued a statement condemning the government-led campaign of repression in Hong Kong. But now is the moment of truth: The Biden administration must affirm its commitment to human rights and democratic values. We are counting on you to do the right thing. 


(Undersigned groups listed in alphabetical order)

1. 7 October Movement

2. Arizona for Hong Kong

3. Campaign for Uyghurs

4. Center for Civil Liberties

5. Chicago Solidarity with Hong Kong

6. China Aid Association


8. Citizen Power Initiatives for China

9. Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong Foundation

10. DC4HK (Washingtonians Supporting Hong Kong)

11. European Belarus Foundation

12. FL4HK

13. Freiheit für Hongkong e.V.

14. Grupo de Apoio ao Tibete-Portugal

15. HK_Connect_UK

16. Hong Kong Affairs Association of Berkeley

17. Hong Kong Collaborative Academic Network (HKCAN)

18. Hong Kong Democracy Council

19. Hong Kong Forum, Los Angeles

20. Hong Kong Professional Network

21. Hong Kong Rule of Law Monitor

22. Hong Kong Social Action Movements in Boston

23. Hong Kong Watch

24. Hong Kongers in San Diego

25. Hong Kongers in San Francisco Bay Area

26. Hongkongers in Britain

27. Human Rights Watch

28. International Tibet Network

29. Lamp of Liberty

30. Lion Rock Café

31. LV4HK

32. New York University Hong Kong Student Advocacy Group

33. New Yorkers Supporting Hong Kong (NY4HK)

34. Northern California Hong Kong Club

35. Penn State Students For Hong Kong

36. Philly4HK


38. Revive South Sudan

39. SD4HK

40. SEArious For HKG

41. Stand with Hong Kong

42. Students for a Free Tibet

43. Students For Hong Kong

44. Swiss Tibetan Friendship Association

45. The Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD)

46. The Uyghur Human Rights Project

47. Tibet Solidarity

48. UCSD Hong Kong Cultural Society

49. UNA

50. US HongKongers Club

51. Victims of Communism Foundation

52. We The Hongkongers

53. World Liberty Congress

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