Taiwan Plans Aid for Hong Kong “Shelter-seekers”; Beijing Threatens Military Action Against Taipei

On Thursday, as Hong Kong police clashed with pro-democracy protesters who were rallying against a law that would criminalize “insulting” the PRC national anthem, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen tweeted:

Tsai’s announcement came after over 500 protesters were arrested over the last week in two separate planned demonstrations—Wednesday’s against the draft anthem bill, and last Sunday’s in opposition to Beijing’s publication of a draft decision that would unilaterally impose national security legislation on Hong Kong. The move comes after long-running concerns over Beijing’s encroachment on the city’s autonomy last spring erupted into a mass protest movement that stalled early this year during the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2019 movement began in opposition to a draft extradition law, and then expanded its demands. Since Beijing’s announcement and the resurgence of demonstrations over the past week, calls for Hong Kong independence have been increasing among protesters.

With Washington-led international condemnation of the expected move growing, on Thursday in Beijing the National People’s Congress approved the draft decision, paving the way for specific laws to be drafted and implemented in coming months. Reporting on the NPC’s approval at The Guardian, Lily Kuo recalls the sharp concerns over the legislation’s impact on the city and its pro-democracy movement:

[In addition to banning any acts that endanger China’s national security, including separatism, subversion and terrorism the] legislation would also allow “national security agencies” – potentially Chinese security forces – to operate in the city.

[…] “It is definitely the start of a new but sad chapter for Hong Kong,” said the pro- legislator Claudia Mo. “Hong Kong as we knew it is finally dead.”

[…] On LIHKG, a forum popular with protesters, users called for a “hundred-day war” to take advantage of their last opportunity to protest before the laws come into force. “Say no to China,” one posted.

“As a Hong Konger there is not much we can do except to show the world we are still fighting for our rights and freedom,” said Serene Chow, 22, who has been part of the demonstrations since last year. […] [Source]

Taipei has condemned the NPC’s move. Since the NPC draft was made public, queries on immigrating to Taiwan have reportedly increased nearly tenfold. During last year’s protests, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen’s initially faltered popularity climbed drastically, due in part to her steady vocal support of Hong Kong protesters and spirited defense of Taiwan’s sovereignty and democracy in response to Beijing’s aggression. In January, President Tsai was decisively reelected, and she began her second term last week with a record high approval rating. When China proposed the national security law, Tsai quickly pledged her support for the people of Hong Kong.

At Reuters, Yimou Lee notes that Tsai becomes the first world leader to pledge specific means in support of people who leave Hong Kong for political reasons, and relays comments from Taipei on developing plans, including mental health support for those who took part in violent protests:

Chen Ming-tong, head of Taiwan’s top China-policy maker, the Mainland Affairs Council, told parliament the government will establish an organisation to deliver “humanitarian relief” that includes settlement and employment in a joint effort with activists groups.

[…] “Many Hong Kongers want to come to Taiwan. Our goal is to give them settlement and care,” Chen said, urging the public not use the word refugee as it could be “emotionally harmful” for people from the city.

Hong Kong’s demonstrators have won widespread sympathy in democratic Taiwan, which China considers as its territory to be taken by force, if necessary. Taiwan has shown no interest in being ruled by autocratic China.

[…] Taiwan has no law on refugees that could be applied to protesters seeking asylum, but its laws promise to help Hong Kongers whose safety and liberty are threatened for political reasons. [Source]

On Friday, Tsai visited the bookstore opened by Hong Kong bookseller Lam Wing-kee–who had been detained in China in 2015–to offer a show of support for Hong Kong:

Reuters’ report also notes that the issue has rallied rare bipartisan support in Taiwan’s polarized political environment. At the South China Morning Post, Lawerence Chung reports on additional statements from Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council on the security and screening that would face a hopeful “shelter seeker’s” move to Taiwan:

Hongkongers who want to move to Taiwan, fearing they will lose their rights and freedom after Beijing approved a national security law for the city, will have to go through a strict screening process, Taiwanese officials said on Thursday.

And only those who meet the requirements under Article 18 of legislation governing Taiwan’s relations with Hong Kong would be eligible to apply, said Chen Ming-tong, head of policymaking body the Mainland Affairs Council.

Their applications would be closely scrutinised by the island’s authorities, including from the security, interior and justice departments, Chen said during a legislative meeting.

[…] The Tsai government has referred to such people not as asylum seekers, but “shelter seekers”.

Chen said the Mainland Affairs Council had already set out targets for the plan, including for the government to coordinate with relevant departments to finalise the details and budget allocation for cabinet to review within a week. [Source]

Earlier this week, the U.S. State Department announced it no longer considers Hong Kong to be autonomous from China, potentially jeopardizing the city’s special trade relationship with Washington. (Hong Kong activists have warned that eliminating the city’s special trade status would destroy the region’s economy and the remaining political freedoms it allows, and hasten Beijing’s full control.) On Friday, President Trump announced that the U.S. would begin steps to revoke Hong Kong’s special status, to which Beijing promised “countermeasures.” This comes as the U.S. and China are standing off on a host of diplomatic issues, including trade, the origins and responsibility for the coronavirus pandemic, and the extradition of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou. The Trump administration has also threatened to cut all funding for the World Health Organization for amplifying alleged false reports on the initial outbreak. The U.S. has criticized the organization for refusing to include Taiwan due to Chinese pressure, and even ignoring early Taiwanese warnings of potential human-to-human transmission of COVID-19.

Separately, on Friday a top Chinese general stated that China would attack Taiwan if necessary to keep the de facto independent nation from achieving independence. Reuters reports:

Speaking at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People on the 15th anniversary of the Anti-Secession Law, Li Zuocheng, chief of the Joint Staff Department and member of the Central Military Commission, left the door open to using force.

[…] “If the possibility for peaceful reunification is lost, the people’s armed forces will, with the whole nation, including the people of Taiwan, take all necessary steps to resolutely smash any separatist plots or actions.”  [Source]

At The Washington Post, Anna Fifield reports on analysts’ increasing concerns that, with interrelated diplomatic tensions with Beijing in the Asia Pacific, “the prospect of actual war is not beyond possibility“:

“China is fed up with being the nice guy. Now any negative comments and actions from the U.S. are bound to trigger diplomatic reactions or other countermeasures in China,” said Xi Junyang, a professor at Shanghai University of Finance and Economics. “The question is how far China is willing to go and what cards we have.”

[…] The threats [to Taiwan] come amid mounting aggression on all geographic fronts, with China embroiled in a military standoff on its western border with India, confrontation in the South China Sea and increasingly rancorous relations with Australia and Canada.

[…] Although the United States’ formal diplomatic relations are with China, it has close ties with Taiwan and has been helping it strengthen its military so that it can stand up to Beijing. The Trump administration last year agreed to sell new F-16 fighter jets worth $8 billion to Taiwan, the largest and most significant sale of weaponry to the island in decades. […] [Source]

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