President Joe Biden on Thursday ordered a two-year extension of a program allowing Hong Kong residents in the United States — many of whom fled repressive Chinese rule — to stay beyond the expiry of their visas.

The extension, just days before the program was due to run out, was likely to add to tensions between Beijing and Washington, already high over Taiwan, trade disputes, and Chinese backing for Russia.

US President Joe Biden in the Oval Office, on January 20, 2023. Photo: Cameron Smith/Official White House Photo.

Biden said the United States is “offering safe haven for Hong Kong residents who have been deprived of their guaranteed freedoms in Hong Kong.”

This “furthers United States interests in the region,” he said in a presidential memorandum.

“The United States supports the human rights and fundamental freedoms of the residents of Hong Kong. The People’s Republic of China has continued to erode those rights and freedoms, and as such I am directing an extension and expansion of the deferral of removal of certain Hong Kong residents,” Biden said.

Biden laid out what he described as the Chinese communist government’s “assault on Hong Kong’s autonomy” and undermining of remaining democratic institutions.

This includes at least 150 arrests of politicians and activists on politically motivated national security charges such as subversion since 2020, with more than 1,200 political prisoners, he said.

“There are compelling foreign policy reasons to extend” the visa clemency program, known as Deferred Enforced Departure, Biden said.

The previous program was due to expire on February 5.

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