Chief Executive Carrie Lam has refused to state whether the city will prevent American reporters with Hong Kong permanent residency from working in journalism, after China vowed to oust US staff at several newspapers from the country.

Last Wednesday, US journalists from the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post were ordered to leave China amid a tit-for-tat war with Washington over press freedom. But in a further unprecedented move, Beijing’s foreign ministry also said that the ousted staff would not be allowed to work as journalists in Hong Kong or Macau.

Carrie Lam at a press conference on March 23. Photo: RTHK screenshot.

It is unclear how the restriction would be implemented and if it would apply to those with permanent residency in the Special Administrative Regions.

On Friday, HKFP asked Lam whether Hong Kong would defy Beijing, or tell a permanent resident that they will not be able to work a certain job. “As far as the immigration matters, we will act in accordance with the law,” Lam replied. “In all individual cases about foreigners coming in and other things, we will act in strict accordance with the law.”

Article 27 of the Basic Law guarantees the freedom of the press in Hong Kong, whilst Article 33 states residents have freedom of choice of occupation.

When pushed to clarify, Lam said: “We will be acting in accordance with the law.”

Beijing’s action came after Washington cut by almost half the number of Chinese citizens allowed to work for Beijing’s state-run media in the US following the ousting of three Wall Street Journal reporters from China.

See also: ‘Journalists as diplomatic pawns’: Questions and outrage as China set to expel US reporters

Since the 1997 Handover to China, no Hong Kong permanent resident has ever been stripped of their residency. However, some non-permanent residents, such as the Financial Times’ Victor Mallet in 2018, have been thrown out and barred from the city.

Last Friday, Commerce and Economic Development Secretary Edward Yau said Beijing’s move was “a reciprocal arrangement in response to US’ unfair treatment of certain Chinese media in the US.”

He added that Hong Kong protected press freedom and welcomed journalists to work in the city “strict accordance with the Basic Law,” according to RTHK.

Taiwan steps in

On Saturday morning, Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Jaushieh Joseph Wu said that the country’s doors were open to the ousted US journalists.

“I’d like to welcome you to be stationed in #Taiwan — a country that is a beacon of freedom & democracy. Yes! You’ll find people here greeting you with open arms & lots of genuine smiles,” he tweeted.

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Tom Grundy

Tom is the editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hong Kong Free Press. He has a BA in Communications & New Media from Leeds University and an MA in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong. He has contributed to the BBC, Euronews, Quartz, Global Post and others.