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Biden Will Ban Hong Kong Leader John Lee From San Francisco APEC Summit

Neil Campbell
Neil lives in Canada and writes about society and politics.
Published: July 28, 2023
Biden is banning Hong Kong leader John Lee from the San Francisco APEC summit in November.
A file photo of Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee (C) in Hong Kong on July 13, 2023. Lee, who was sanctioned by the Donald Trump administration for the National Security Law that followed the 2019 Hong Kong protests, will be barred from the APEC conference in San Francisco in November, reports state. (Image: ISAAC LAWRENCE/AFP via Getty Images)

U.S. establishment media reports that President Joe Biden will ban Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee from the November Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) conference in San Francisco as a “test” of Chinese President Xi Jinping.

“Three U.S. officials familiar with the matter” disclosed the information to The Washington Post for a July 27 article titled Biden, Testing Xi, Will Bar Hong Kong’s Leader From Economic Summit.

The Post summarized the harkenings of “some analysts” that the ban may “induce Chinese leader Xi Jinping to skip the APEC summit — where a meeting with Biden has been anticipated.”

APEC is where Xi and Biden were believed to meet face to face, even after the American leader called his counterpart in Beijing a “dictator” who was unaware someone from China had sent the spy balloon into U.S. territory during comments at a California fundraising event for his 2024 Presidential Election campaign in June.

“U.S. officials…speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the matter’s sensitivity” also told the Post that Hong Kong itself would not be barred, just John Lee, an appointee of Xi’s, who was sanctioned by Donald Trump after the city imposed the National Security Law in the wake of the 2019 Heaven Will Eliminate the CCP protests.

While representatives from the White House declined to comment on the story, a spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Washington said China “express[es] our strong opposition” to the ban.

A spokesperson for the government of Hong Kong said, “The Apec meeting does not belong to any country or economy,” adding, “The host country is responsible for sending out invitation letters to the leaders of member economies and providing convenience for the leaders of member economies to attend the meeting…The SAR government has publicly expressed the above position on many occasions,” South China Morning Post reported.

Vladimir Putin “would generally be barred” from APEC “unless a waiver was obtained,” the Post’s sources were paraphrased as adding.

As recently as June 7, Lee was still set to attend APEC, drawing the ire of a portion of Congressmen from both the Republican and Democrat sides of the isle, Reuters reported in an exclusive based on a letter sent by two Senators and two House Representatives to Antony Blinken’s State Department.

“The letter cited comments from Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, who in a written response to questions following Feb. 9 testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told senators that the department intended to welcome Lee to the U.S. for APEC,” the article wrote.

Blinken traveled to Beijing to meet with Xi personally only a few weeks later.

On June 8, Bloomberg published an article titled China Asks US to Let Sanctioned Hong Kong Leader Attend Summit

The title was based on comments from Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin, who told reporters, “We believe the US will deliver on its commitments and make sure that representatives of all APEC members, including Hong Kong, China, will participate smoothly.”

The Post said the State Department had later “walked back” Sherman’s comments, saying “an incorrect version of this answer was inadvertently transmitted to Congress.”

Hong Kong Free Press asked Lee in May whether he was concerned about obstructions to attending APEC arising from the sanctions against him. 

Lee said, “Hong Kong, China has been a member [of] APEC, and has been taking part in APEC conferences in accordance [with] APEC rules and conventions… So it is up to the organisers to act in accordance with these conventions.”

Sanctions generally prohibit U.S. entities from interacting with an individual, unless they obtain a formal waiver.

Although everyone from Tesla CEO Elon Musk to Secretary of Treasury Janet Yellen, and even Henry Kissinger have visited China over the last several months, foreign relations are still rocky.

A most notable manifestation is the disappearance of Foreign Minister Qin Gang, appointed to the position after Xi became a third term leader of the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese government at the end of 2022, after meeting with Musk, Blinken, and representatives from Russia, Vietnam, and Sri Lanka.

After a lengthy stretch, Qin was suddenly replaced by his predecessor Wang Yi, now a member of the Politburo, on July 25.

On July 26, U.S. media reported that Tesla vehicles had been banned from Chengdu, the host city of the World University Games as President Xi was set to oversee the Opening Ceremonies.

Although American media has framed the APEC summit as one Xi must attend regardless of the loss of face due to China’s economic situation, at the end of June, Beijing told Washington that if Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin wanted to meet with Defence Minister General Li Shangfu, sanctions would have to be lifted first.

Li was sanctioned in 2018, also by the Trump administration, for purchasing armaments from Russia during his time with the People’s Liberation Army.

“A person familiar with the matter who requested anonymity to speak freely” told Bloomberg in an article on Lee’s snub that “some individuals who work in Lee’s office were caught unaware by news of the ban.”