Hong Kong activists have been split over a move by US Senator Ted Cruz to block the passage of an act granting special refugee status to Hongkongers fleeing the city.

Some voiced support for the senator while others have expressed disappointment at his objection to the legislation on Friday.

Ted Cruz
Ted Cruz. Photo: Screenshot via Ted Cruz/Twitter.

Exiled activist and former Hong Kong lawmaker Nathan Law called for Hongkongers to be patient on Sunday. “With issues such as refugees and infiltration, in the United States, it has gone far beyond the discussion of the issue of Hong Kong,” Law wrote on Facebook. “[E]ach party has their own deep-rooted thinking and political calculation.”

He added that what was important was for the two parties to reach a consensus before the new year. “The issue we have to handle now is how we could reach a greater consensus before the session resumes.” Law wrote he was confident the bill will be passed in January.

Meanwhile, other activists abroad have criticised Cruz’s move. Activist Jeffrey Ngo suggested that Cruz’s blockade of the act on Friday meant the senator found the presence of Hongkongers in the country “offensive.”

Samuel Chu of the Hong Kong Democracy Council voiced “disappointment” at the thwarted bill. “I am deeply disappointed that the Senate failed to advance… the Hong Kong People’s Freedom and Choice Act… under unanimous consent. This Congress had a chance to take bold, immediate, and bipartisan action today – just as they have done all through the past 18 months – to do something tangible for Hong Kongers,” he wrote in a statement.

Cruz had cited threats of Chinese espionage for objecting to the bill.

Others shared memes criticising the senator for Texas but others defended his move, saying his reasons for objecting were valid. “[Cruz] objecting is a very correct thing…those who accuses Cruz are probably ignorant don’t understand CCP’s infiltration in HK by then…a lot of Chinese people will use Hong Kong’s name to go to US and infiltrate,” one user on the Reddit-like LIHKG forum wrote.

They also referred to “loopholes” in the bill. “The bill has too many flaws and loopholes can be taking advantage of by the CCP spy in Hong Kong. Thank you for @tedcruz for doing the right thing,” one tweet read.

The Hong Kong People’s Freedom and Choice Act proposed the granting of temporary protected status to Hong Kong residents who only hold Hong Kong citizenship and have lived in the city for at least 10 years. It also provided for a fast-tracked process for Hongkongers seeking asylum in the US and for Hong Kong to be treated separately from China for immigration purposes.

The bill had been passed unanimously on December 7 by the House of Representatives.

‘Exploiting the Hong Kong crisis’

Cruz, a Republican, said the bill was a “dangerous measure” which “recklessly exposes” the US to being infiltrated by Beijing spies.

The senator described it as an attempt by the Democratic Party to “exploit the crisis in Hong Kong to advance their political agenda.”

““[T]heir preference is to make all immigration legal. This bill advances that longtime partisan political agenda that the Democrats have,” Cruz said on the Senate floor. Instead, he called for a “substantive, bipartisan conversation about… countering the Chinese Communist Party.”

Cruz’s objection on Friday meant there was no requisite unanimous consent, which could have expedited the passing of the bill. It will not be seen again by Congress until the next session in the new year.

The bill follows reports of Western countries granting asylum to pro-democracy activists fleeing the city after the passing of the security law in June. Countries who have recognised refugees from Hong Kong include the US, Germany and Canada.

Earlier this month, Bloomberg reported that the UK Passport Office issued a record 200,000 British National (Overseas) passports to Hongkongers in the first 10 months of the year.

Cruz has been an ardent supporter for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement last year and has voiced strong criticism of the “tyranny” of Beijing.

Correction 23/12: The bill passed unanimously by the House on December 7, not in mid-July as previously reported.

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Rhoda Kwan is HKFP's Assistant Editor. She has previously written for TimeOut Hong Kong and worked at Meanjin, a literary journal. She holds a double bachelor’s degree in Law and Literature from the University of Hong Kong.