The success of the current protest movement inspired by Hong Kong’s controversial extradition bill may offer a glimmer of hope for democracy activists, but many residents have already chosen to escape mainland China’s iron grip by emigrating to other countries, with Taiwan an especially popular destination.
The Epoch Times on Thursday quoted Hongkongers young and old who decided to leave before its “one country, two systems” autonomy erodes even further. One student who moved to Taiwan said that many of the young activists filling the streets to protest the extradition bill are already making their own plans to depart.
A senior citizen planning to move to Taiwan compared life under Communist Party domination to “being put in jail” or “living in a concentration camp” in an interview with Reuters.
Critics of the extradition bill have consistently denounced it as a potentially fatal blow to Hong Kong’s autonomy. Their most immediate concern is that China would be able to seize and extradite political dissidents from Hong Kong more easily, stripping them of their special protections and persecuting them with politically motivated trials.
Reuters noted Hong Kong residents are also dismayed by a heavy influx of Chinese immigrants and manipulation of the Hong Kong real estate market by mainland investors, measures that will dilute the political and economic influence of longtime residents.
“It’s like there’s a burglar in my house and I’m the one who’s forced to leave because I couldn’t defeat him,” complained a Hongkonger who moved to Taiwan several years ago and is currently working to help his parents emigrate.
“According to data from Taiwan’s Ministry of the Interior National Immigration Agency, the number of immigrants from Macau and Hong Kong has steadily increased in recent years. There were 697 such immigrants in 2014 and the number increased to 1,267 in 2018,” the Epoch Times reported.
Taiwan has been strongly supportive of Hong Kong democracy activists. Rallies have been held in Taipei to support the Hong Kong demonstrators and express outrage against excessive police violence used against them. Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen denounced the extradition bill as a “violation of human rights” and also an assault on Taiwan’s sovereignty.
“We will not be an accomplice to the malicious law,” Tsai vowed, alluding to the Taiwanese murder case that has often been cited by supporters of the Hong Kong bill as the reason changes to extradition procedures are necessary.
An op-ed at the South China Morning Post (SCMP) on Sunday argued Taiwan was a major factor in convincing Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam to suspend hearings on the extradition bill, because supporting the protesters gave incumbent Taiwanese President Tsai an enormous boost in popularity, alarming mainland Chinese officials who hoped a pro-Beijing candidate might unseat her in the next election.
The Chinese are also worried that unrest in Hong Kong stiffens the resolve of Taiwanese who refuse to accept a similar “one country, two systems” arrangement. “Many Taiwanese fear that Hong Kong today will be their tomorrow if they are forced to accept Beijing’s terms for reunification,” another SCMP op-ed noted on Wednesday.
“Developments in Hong Kong from the Umbrella Movement to the recent protests, have cemented the view of people in Taiwan that [Communist China] can’t be trusted to preserve their autonomy,” Taiwan expert Bonnie Glaser of the Center for Strategic and International Studies told AFP on Sunday.
AFP noted that even some Taiwanese opposition politicians who favor better relations with Beijing have expressed deep alarm over the situation in Hong Kong. One of the most prominent examples, prospective presidential candidate and billionaire Terry Gou of the pro-Beijing Kuomintang party, said he would “open both arms to invite Hong Kong friends to emigrate to Taiwan.”
A mass exodus of freedom-seeking Hongkongers would have a significant impact on Taiwanese culture and politics, and it certainly would not be in the direction Beijing desires.