Taiwan considers sheltering ‘friends from Hong Kong’ after LegCo protesters flee to self-ruling island

Protesters smash through the glass of the public entrance to the LegCo on July 1. Photo by Vicky Wong.
Protesters smash through the glass of the public entrance to the LegCo on July 1. Photo by Vicky Wong.

Taiwan’s government today said it would provide assistance to Hongkongers seeking sanctuary there after local media reported dozens of activists involved in the unprecedented storming of the city’s parliament earlier this month had fled to the island.

Over 30 Hong Kong protesters who fear prosecution for their involvement in the ransacking of the Legislative Council on July 1 have arrived in Taiwan to seek shelter, Taiwan’s Apple Daily said, citing unnamed sources. The report said the activists are staying in various locations and that some are receiving assistance from local NGOs.

The Mainland Affairs Council, Taiwan’s top policy-making body on China, did not confirm whether any requests for sanctuary had been made. But it issued a statement today saying it would handle such cases “under the principle of respecting human rights protections and humanitarian concerns.”

“[We] can provide necessary assistance to Hong Kong residents whose safety and freedom are in urgent danger due to political reasons,” it said.

Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen added her support for such a move.

“These friends from Hong Kong will be treated in an appropriate way on humanitarian grounds,” Taiwan’s Central News Agency quoted her as saying during a visit to the Caribbean island of Saint Lucia, one of Taiwan’s few remaining diplomatic allies.

Hong Kong has been rocked by more than a month of huge and largely peaceful protests — as well as a series of separate violent confrontations with police — sparked by a law that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China and other countries.

Taiwan’s history of providing sanctuary to Chinese dissidents has been mixed. The island still does not recognize the legal concept of asylum but has, on occasions, allowed dissidents to stay on long-term visas.

RFA spoke to Leung Man-to, a political science professor from Hong Kong at Taiwan National Cheng Kung University, who said there had been a small influx of protesters in recent weeks amid fears of a “delayed crackdown,” but that it remains difficult for Hongkongers to obtain long-term residency in Taiwan.

“They are just here in Taiwan as tourists, for a month or so, for the time being, to wait and see what happens,” he said. “They want to come here to distance themselves from it for a while.”

The pledge to consider Hongkongers’ applications risks infuriating Beijing, but comes as Taiwan gears up for a presidential election where a dominating issue will be relations with the mainland — which sees the self-ruled island as its territory and has vowed to seize it. Tsai is seeking a second term at January’s election.

Ties with Beijing have soured since she came to power in 2016 because her party refuses to recognize the idea that Taiwan is part of “one China.”

Since her landslide victory, Beijing has cut official communications, ramped up military exercises, poached diplomatic allies, and ratcheted up economic pressure on the island.

Tsai has described the 2020 presidential election as a “fight for freedom and democracy,” setting herself up as someone who can defend Taiwan from an increasingly assertive Beijing.

Her main opponent, Han Kuo-yu — from the more China-friendly Kuomintang party — has advocated warmer ties with the mainland.

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