The United States is considering the option of welcoming people from Hong Kong in response to China's push to impose national security legislation in the former British colony, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in remarks released on Monday.
Influential Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell also said on Monday he hoped the Trump administration would soon identify specific ways to "impose costs on Beijing" for curbing freedoms in Hong Kong. McConnell said the United States should mirror the response of other democracies and open its doors to people from the territory.
Addressing the Senate, McConnell said the United States had "a rich heritage of standing as a beacon of light" to refugees from war and communism.
"We should exercise it again for the people of Hong Kong," he said.
President Donald Trump on Friday ordered his administration to begin the process of eliminating special U.S. treatment for Hong Kong to punish China for curbing freedoms there, but stopped short of immediately ending privileges that have helped the territory remain a global financial center.
Last week, Britain said it was prepared to offer extended visa rights and a pathway to citizenship for almost 3 million Hong Kong residents.
While speaking to the American Enterprise Institute on Friday, Pompeo was asked if Washington was considering welcoming people from Hong Kong "to come here and bring their entrepreneurial creativity".
"We are considering it. I don't know precisely how it will play out," he replied in remarks shared by the State Department on Monday.
"The British have, as you know, a different relationship. A lot of these folks have British national passports. There's a long history between Hong Kong and the United Kingdom; it's very different. But we're taking a look at it," he added.
When asked about Pompeo's comments, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said on Tuesday that China would not tolerate any foreign interference in Hong Kong.
"We wish the US would do more to benefit Hong Kong's stability and prosperity and the development of China-U.S. relations," he said, speaking at a daily news conference in Beijing.
Last year, Trump approved legislation stating that Hong Kong residents may not be denied visas because they have been subjected to politically motivated arrest, detention, or other "adverse" government action.
On Friday, Trump also issued a proclamation suspending entry of Chinese nationals identified as potential security risks, something sources said could affect thousands.
In a statement on Monday, Pompeo said the move would apply only to graduate students and researchers "targeted, co-opted and exploited" by the Chinese government, representing "only a small subset" of such applicants.
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