China’s Coast Guard said on Wednesday it intercepted a speedboat carrying 12 Hong Kong protesters who were attempting to flee to Taiwan.
The passengers were charged with illegally crossing the border and detained in China’s Guangdong province.
The speedboat passengers were described as young activists, several of them out on bail after they were arrested for taking part in Hong Kong protests. One of them has been tentatively identified as Andy Li, charged with “colluding with foreign forces” under the national security law China imposed on Hong Kong in June. Chinese state media has labeled him as a “secessionist.”
One of the other passengers was reportedly accused of involvement in a plot to detonate explosives at a school.
Reuters noted it has been rare until now for Chinese authorities to arrest people for illegal leaving Hong Kong. The Hong Kong police chief said he has not been officially notified of the arrest.
The Wall Street Journal anticipated the incident is “likely to fuel tensions between China and Taiwan,” since the Taiwanese government supports the Hong Kong protest movement and has offered refuge to Hong Kongers, although her government wants asylum-seekers to immigrate legally. President Tsai Ing-wen’s outspoken support for the people of Hong Kong helped her win the most resounding reelection victory in three decades. The Chinese government has denounced Taiwan for interfering in Hong Kong affairs and stirring up unrest.
Lam Wing-kee, a bookseller who relocated to Taiwan after he was arrested for selling books deemed subversive by Chinese officials, told the WSJ he expected more protesters to flee the intensifying crackdown in Hong Kong.
“Wouldn’t you be scared if you were them?” he asked.