HONG KONG (AP) - Hong Kong has protested President Joe Biden's two-year extension of a program that protects residents of the semi-autonomous Chinese city living in the U.S. from deportation, accusing Washington of "demonstrating sinister intentions and hegemonic bullying."
An unidentified government spokesperson was quoted Friday as saying the U.S. had "wantonly" smeared Hong Kong's National Security Law, imposed on the city by Beijing in 2020 as part of a sweeping crackdown on the democratic movement. Since the law's enactment by the Chinese legislature, at least 150 opposition politicians, activists and protesters have been taken into custody, while an unknown number of others have fled overseas.
Biden first authorized the program, the Deferred Enforced Departure for Certain Hong Kong Citizens, in August 2021 for 18 months. It was set to expire on Feb. 5 but has been extended until January 2025.
"The US Government clearly stated that its latest actions are in its 'foreign policy interest' without any attempt to disguise its motives, demonstrating sinister intentions and hegemonic bullying," the Hong Kong spokesperson was quoted as saying in a statement posted on the government's official website.
"The US has many laws on national security, but chooses to continue to wantonly smear" the National Security Law, the spokesperson said.
The decision to provide a temporary safe haven was in response to the law and other measures that reinforced Beijing's absolute control and undercut rights promised when the former British colony was handed back to China in 1997.
"With this action, we are demonstrating again President Biden's strong support for the people of Hong Kong in the face of increasing repression by the (People's Republic of China)," the White House National Security Council said in a statement Thursday.
"We continue to strongly oppose (China's) use of its National Security Law to deny the people of Hong Kong their human rights and fundamental freedoms, undermine Hong Kong's autonomy, and chip away at Hong Kong's remaining democratic processes and institutions," the statement said.
The Hong Kong spokesperson denied any political bias in its pursuit of those wanted under the law, many of whom had taken part in the push for expanded democracy and months of anti-government protests in 2019.
"All law enforcement actions taken by Hong Kong law enforcement agencies are based on evidence, strictly according to the law and for the acts of the people, institutions or organisations concerned, and have nothing to do with their political stance, background or occupation," the spokesperson said.
"The US Government's remarks about the rights and freedoms in Hong Kong are totally unfounded," the spokesperson added.