The US Has Barred Hong Kong’s Chief Executive From Attending the Next Apec Summit

The US Has Barred Hong Kong’s Chief Executive From Attending the Next Apec Summit
John Lee Ka-chiu is a Hong Kong government official and former police officer serving as the current Chief Executive, by Yung Chi Wai Derek via Shutterstock, 2022/14 March


Paloma Pérez Maroto

East and South Asia Researcher

Global Human Rights Defence

The next Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit will be held in San Francisco in November 2023, with leaders from 21 regional economies gathering to address economic and policy issues concerning the Asia-Pacific region (APEC, 2021). However, on the 28th of July 2023, as the host country, the U.S. barred the current Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, John Lee Ka-chiu, from attending the Summit. This decision was based on his role in the arrest of several pro-democracy activists during the 2019 protest movements against the National Security Law’s implementation (NSL) in Hong Kong (HKW, 2023).

Section 12 of the APEC rules, even though not legally binding, state that visiting delegates are responsible for arranging their visas if they are required. However, due to U.S. sanctions imposed on him and other Hong Kong officials following the activists’ arrests, John Lee is unable to obtain any U.S. immigrant or non-immigrant visa (Cheng, 2023). Thus, according to the governments of Hong Kong and China, the U.S. is violating Lee’s rights to attend the Summit under APEC rules and punishing the Chief Executive over whom it has no jurisdiction (Cheung, 2023).

Conversely, President Biden received a letter from 53 civil society organisations opposing to the Hong Kong’s Chief Executive attending the meeting (Goodman, 2023). In 2019, John Lee was the Security Chief who oversaw the police crackdown during the protest movements against the NSL. Thus, the U.S. and these organizations claim Lee was responsible for the coercing, detaining, and imprisoning of the activists (Reporter, 2023), which does not uphold with his ICCPR duties to safeguard protestors’ freedom of expression (Art. 19), freedom of assembly (Art. 21) and association (Art. 22).

Sources and further reading:

APEC. (2021, September 1). The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation. APEC. Retrieved August 11, 2023, from

Cheung, S. (2023, July 28). China demands Washington invite Hong Kong leader to economic summit, lift sanctions. Radio Free Asia. Retrieve August 10, 2023, from

Cheng, R. (2023, August 13). Will US break APEC rules if Hong Kong leader barred from summit? Radio Free Asia. Retrieved August 16, 2023, from 

HKW. (2023, July 28). HKW welcomes confirmation from the Biden Administration that HK CE John Lee will not attend the APEC Summit. Hong Kong Watch. Retrieved August 10, 2023, from

OHCHR. (2022, July 27). UN Human Rights Committee issues findings on Hong Kong, Macao, Georgia, Ireland, Luxembourg and Uruguay. Retrieved June 19, 2023, from

Reuters. (2023, July 29). US bars Hong Kong leader John Lee from San Francisco Apec summit. The Guardian. Retrieved August 11, 2023, from