Hong Kong protesters who fled to Taiwan have been embroiled in a network of restrictions aimed at protecting the democratically ruled island from an increasingly assertive China.
And Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen offered refuge to a wave of Hong Kongers fleeing after Beijing moved to crush dissidents in the former British colony. But many feel left out by the Taiwanese government as they struggle to build a new life across the strait.
“Tsai’s rhetoric towards the protesters has been very positive,” said Lev Nachman, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University who studied political protest movements in Taiwan and Hong Kong. “But there is a disconnect between his words and what the government is doing to help.”
In May 2020, Tsai said Taiwan would provide “the necessary assistance to the people of Hong Kong” after China imposed a harsh national security law. “The solutions are not projectile,” he said, “but to truly implement freedom and democracy.”
Tsai, however, resisted calls to introduce a refugee or political asylum system that would pave the way for exiled protesters to obtain permanent residence or citizenship, cautioning that it could “cause trouble with China,” he said. said Nachman.
Taiwan is worried about provoking Beijing becoming an outpost for the activities of the Anti-Chinese Communist Party as soon as the People’s Liberation Army intensifies its military stance against the country.
Five protesters who traveled illegally in Taiwan by boat last July were quietly stationed on a military base for six months before being allowed to enter the US for humanitarian reasons.
“Taiwan has helped the Hong Kongers. It’s undeniable, ”said Lam Wing-kee, the owner of Causeway Bay Books in Taipei, who was kidnapped by the continent’s agents in 2015. He fled after Hong Kong proposed an extradition law to China in 2019. “The question is whether more can be done to help.”
In the first five months of 2021, Taiwan approved nearly 4,000 temporary residence applications for Hong Kongers, up 44 percent from the previous year’s increase.
“Wealthy Hong Kongers have an easier time getting to Taiwan, but the most urgent group are protesters, many of whom are young students,” Nachman said.
The absence of a formalized refugee process means that many Hong Kongers have to move from one temporary visa to another, making it difficult to find stable employment.
Jiang Min-Yan, a researcher at the Taipei-based Union of Economic Democracy think-tank, said that “without being able to secure permanent residence or citizenship, it is impossible for Hong Kongers to feel that they are belong to Taiwan ”.
Supporters of lobbying on behalf of Hong Kongers have said Taiwan’s visa process failed the exiles. To obtain a work visa, Hong Kong migrants must secure a job offer with a monthly salary twice that of Taiwan’s minimum wage. This need is difficult to meet for the youth and working class of Hong Kong who form the bulk of the pro-democracy movement.
Chiu Chui-Cheng, deputy minister of the Council for Mainland Affairs, told the Financial Times that he dealt with each residence permit application individually and that he gave additional support in mitigating circumstances.
Taiwan opened a special office in July 2020 to coordinate humanitarian assistance for Hong Kongers in response to the imposition of the security law a month earlier. The office provides financial, physical and mental support to exiled activists.
The Chinese government’s Taiwan Affairs Office has criticized Tsai’s support for the protests as part of a “separatist plot” to promote independence movements in Taiwan and Hong Kong. China claims Taiwan as part of its territory and has threatened to attack if Taipei seeks formal independence.
The influx from Hong Kong has also accentuated fears in Taiwan that Chinese agents who has infiltrated the pro-democracy movement may have even come to the island.
“Taiwan is very sensitive to anything related to China,” said Simon, a Hong Konger who came to Taipei after the passage of the national security law and asked to use a pseudonym.
Simon waited a year to see if his retired mother could join him. His application hit an obstacle when authorities discovered he was working at a Hong Kong technology company that had been acquired by a mainland Chinese competitor.
Sang Pu, a lawyer who runs an organization that helps Hong Kongers apply for residency in Taiwan, said authorities reject candidates who have worked in companies belonging to mainland China.
Chiu defended Taiwan’s prudent approach. “Hong Kong has changed and is now controlled by the CCP,” he said, “so we must protect ourselves against the possibility that China will take advantage of our freer policies toward Hong Kong immigration to infiltrate Taiwan.”
Taiwan has begun drawing up contingency plans for the loss of official ground representation in Hong Kong as relations between the territories continue to deteriorate. Activists are worried that Tsai will revoke the city’s special status, which has made it easier for Hong Kongers to move to the island than mainland China’s residents.
“Taiwan’s door to Hong Kong is closing slowly,” Sang said. “Before doing so, Taipei must allow supporters of democracy to enter.”