Any government has discretion on the issuing of visas, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam said, refusing to explain why a journalist from the prestigious Economist newspaper was denied a renewal of her work visa.

The chief executive, who said she herself had been rejected for a US visa, refused to comment on what she called an individual case but said assurances on visa matters for foreign journalists were “provided in the Basic Law.”

Carrie Lam
Chief Executive Carrie Lam meeting the press on November 16, 2021. Photo: Selina Cheng/HKFP.

Sue-Lin Wong, a correspondent with the Economist, was denied a visa renewal. “We regret their decision, which was given without explanation. Sue-Lin is not currently in Hong Kong. We are proud of Sue-Lin’s journalism,” Zanny Minton Beddoes, Economist editor-in-chief, said in a statement on Saturday.

When asked about the case of Wong, an Australian national, Lam said on Tuesday that the government would “continue to facilitate” the operations of foreign media outlets in the city, “but everything has to be done in a legitimate manner.”

“I’m sure you know that we have a large number of overseas media based in Hong Kong, some of them using Hong Kong as their regional base to operate in Asia-Pacific region,” she told a press conference. “So we will continue to facilitate their stay, their operation, their employment in Hong Kong, in accordance with our policy.”

“And of course we now have also a piece of law called the national security law, so in all aspects of the government activities, national security is clearly a very important consideration.”

Sue-Lin Wong
Sue-Lin Wong. Photo: The Economist.

Wong is the latest journalist to be refused a visa after HKFP’s incoming editor Aaron Mc Nicholas was denied one last year. Chris Buckley of the New York Times was forced to leave weeks earlier, and Victor Mallet of the Financial Times was required to leave in 2018. None were given an explanation.

Mallet, the newspaper’s Asia editor, had been president of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, which refused to cancel a talk by a pro-independence activist. The FCC last year raised what it called “highly unusual” delays in visa approval for multiple media outlets.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said on Monday that the Hong Kong government “has the right to make decisions on visa applications according to ‘One country, two systems’ and the Basic Law.”

China's MOFA spokesperson Zhao Lijian on September 23, 2021. Photo: GovCN.
China’s MOFA spokesperson Zhao Lijian on September 23, 2021. File photo: GovCN.

Zhao also said that the number of foreign media outlets and journalists entering Hong Kong had increased after the enactment of the national security law in 2020, and that the number of foreign staffers working for the Economist increased by 22 per cent over a year.

“Numbers don’t lie,” said Zhao. “[I] hope that relevant parties stick to journalistic ethics and cover reports involving Hong Kong objectively and justly.”

The national security law, enacted in June last year, criminalised subversion, secession, collusion with foreign forces and terrorist acts, which were broadly defined to include disruption to transport and other infrastructure. Several journalists are among more than 100 people charged under the law and the pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily has been shut down.

Lam’s US visa denial

Lam also said on Tuesday that she herself had been denied a visa by the US government.

“Standing here as the chief executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, I have been denied a visa into the United States of America. Although I would dispute that [decision], that was [at] the autonomy and the discretion of the US government,” she said.

“Hong Kong is an international city, and we are very proud of being a hub for overseas media. “

The chief executive has been sanctioned by the US Treasury since August last year for allegedly undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy. When the sanctions were announced Lam said on Facebook that her US visa would expire in 2026.

Asked about Lam’s reference to a visa refusal, her office said: “The Chief Executive was referring to the unreasonable sanctions unilaterally imposed by the US on the Chief Executive, which involve visa restrictions and exclusion.”

“Since I don’t look forward to going to this country, it seems that [I] can cancel [the visa],” wrote Lam in her Facebook post last year.

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Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.