Hong Kongers reflect on Taiwan, an imperfect exile

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Hong Kong bookstore owner Lam Wing-kee Detained by police in China After five months of selling Communist Party sensitive books, coming to Taiwan is a logical step.

An island just 640 kilometers (400 miles) from Hong Kong, Taiwan is not only geographically but linguistically and culturally close. It offers freedoms that many Hong Kongers have become accustomed to and have seen disappear in their homeland.

Carrie Lam moved to Taiwan in 2019, where he reopened his bookstore In the capital, Taipei, there has been a wave of immigration from Hong Kong as the former British colony comes under tighter control by China’s central government and its long-ruling Communist Party.

“It’s not that Hong Kong doesn’t have any democracy, it doesn’t even have any freedom,” Lam said in a recent interview. “When the British ruled Hong Kong, they didn’t give us real democracy or voting rights, but the British gave Hong Kongers a lot of freedom.”

Hong Kong and Chinese leaders will mark the 25th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to China next week. At that time, someone was willing to give China a chance. China had promised to rule Hong Kong for 50 years under the “one country, two systems” framework. This means Hong Kong will retain its own legal and political system and freedom of speech that does not exist in mainland China.

But in the decades that followed, growing tensions between the city’s Western-style liberal values ​​and mainland China’s authoritarian political system culminated in the pro-democracy protests that erupted in 2019. China has since implemented a national security law that has kept activists and others alive. Fear of arrest for speaking out.

Hong Kong still looks the same. Malls are open, skyscrapers gleaming. But Kacey Wong, a well-known artist who moved to Taiwan last year, said he had been worried about the arrest of himself or his friends, some of whom are now in prison.

“Outside it’s still beautiful, the sunset with the harbour view. But it’s an illusion that makes you think you’re still free,” he said. “Actually you’re not, the government is watching you and stalking you.”

Although Huang felt safe in Taiwan, life in exile was not easy. Despite the similarities to Hong Kong, Wong finds his new home an unfamiliar place. He does not speak Taiwanese, a widely spoken Hokkien dialect. This laid-back island stands in stark contrast to the fast-paced financial capital of Hong Kong.

The first six months were tough, Wong said, noting that traveling to Taiwan as a tourist is nothing like self-imposed exile on the island.

“I haven’t developed a relationship with the place, with the street, with the people, with the language, with the store downstairs,” he said.

Other less prominent exiles than Huang or Lin have also had to navigate in a system that has no laws or mechanisms for refugees and asylum seekers, and is not always popular. Taiwan’s growing concern about the security risks posed by China’s claim to the island as a renegade province and Beijing’s growing influence in Hong Kong is further complicated by the issue.

For example, some individuals, such as public school teachers and doctors, have been denied permanent residency in Taiwan because they had worked for the Hong Kong government, said Feng Tian, ​​secretary-general of the Hong Kong Foreigners Organization, which advocates for the rights of Hong Kong people in Taiwan. . Others struggle with the stricter requirements and slow processing of investment visas.

Over the past year or so, some have chosen to leave Taiwan, citing clearer immigration paths in the UK and Canada, despite a wider language and cultural divide.

Huang said Taiwan missed a golden opportunity to retain Hong Kong talent. “Policies and actions, and … the government is not doing things proactively enough to create uncertainty for these people, and that’s why they’re leaving,” he said.

The island’s Mainland Affairs Commission has defended its records, saying it found some immigrants from Hong Kong employed immigration firms with illegal methods, such as not making investments and hiring locals they promised on paper.

“We are in Taiwan and we also have national security needs,” Qiu Chuizheng, vice-minister of the Mainland Affairs Council, said on a TV show last week. “Of course we also want to help Hong Kong, and we have always supported Hong Kong people for freedom, democracy and the rule of law.”

About 11,000 Hong Kongers were granted residence permits in Taiwan last year, and 1,600 of them were granted permanent residency, according to Taiwan’s National Immigration Service. Last year, in response to a crackdown in China, Britain issued 97,000 applications to Hong Kong holders of British National Overseas passports.

No matter how imperfect, Taiwan has given activists a chance to carry on their work, even if direct action of the past is no longer possible.

Lin is one of five Hong Kong booksellers who gained global attention when they were detained by Chinese security agents in 2016.

He often lends his existence to protest against ChinaRecently attended a June 4 commemoration in Taipei marking the anniversary of the bloody 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. Similar protests have taken place in Hong Kong and Macau, where until recently China allowed the commemoration of the Tiananmen massacre and is no longer allowed.

“As a Hong Konger, I actually didn’t stop fighting. I kept doing what I needed to do in Taiwan and participated in my activities. I didn’t give up fighting,” Lin said.

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