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State Department amends comment on APEC invitation for Hong Kong’s leader

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By Michael Martina

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. State Department amended part of a statement to Congress in which it said Washington would invite Hong Kong’s chief executive, who faces U.S. sanctions, to a November summit, after lawmakers urged he be barred from entering the country.

The Unites States is set to host this year’s gathering in San Francisco of leaders of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) group, of which Hong Kong is a member economy. But Hong Kong’s top official John Lee was placed under U.S. sanctions in 2020 over his role in implementing what Washington deems a “draconian” Hong Kong national security law.

A group of lawmakers last week sent a letter to the department urging it to bar Lee from the U.S., citing comments from Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, who told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in a written response to questions that the U.S. intended to welcome Lee for APEC.

“An incorrect version of this answer was inadvertently transmitted to Congress. The Department regrets the error,” a State Department spokesperson said.

“No decisions about invitations have been made,” the official said, adding that the U.S. has made clear APEC participation must be in accordance with U.S. laws and regulations, “including with respect to sanctions”.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday confirmed it had received the corrected response, which said the U.S. “has not made any commitments regarding invitations.”

The four lawmakers who sent the letter – Republican Senator Marco Rubio, Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley, Democratic Representative Jim McGovern and Republican Representative Chris Smith – said they welcomed further consultation with the department on the issue, but noted the amended language was unclear on the status of any eventual invitation.

“Our bipartisan letter clearly stated our posture that inviting Mr. Lee to APEC is a mistake both because he is complicit in human rights abuses and because such invitation recognizes Hong Kong as a separate economy from the PRC (People’s Republic of China), when in fact, and according to U.S. law, it is not,” they said in a statement on Tuesday.

China’s Foreign Ministry said on Thursday that the U.S. has a responsibility to “ensure the smooth participation” of all APEC member representatives, and that it believed the U.S. would “deliver on its commitments”

(Reporting by Michael Martina; editing by Mark Heinrich)

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