This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen has warned that she could suspend trading privileges accorded to Hong Kong if Beijing imposes a draconian national security law on the city.
China’s announcement it will bypass Hong Kong’s legislature to impose draconian security laws on the city to quell “subversion” and “foreign interference” during the year-long protest movement has sparked international criticism and concern.
Writing in a Facebook post, Tsai said the proposed law “seriously threatens Hong Kong’s future.”
“If the law is implemented, the core values of democratic freedom and judicial independence in Hong Kong will be severely eroded,” she wrote. “The [promise] that Hong Kong people would rule Hong Kong with a high degree of autonomy will be dead in the water.”
Tsai said the democratic island’s Hong Kong and Macau Relations Law requires the government to stop treating either city as a separate trading entity if their autonomy is seriously compromised by Beijing.
“We hope that things won’t get to that point in Hong Kong, but we will pay close attention to developments, and take necessary measures if or when the time comes to do so,” she wrote.
She said the island’s government — which has streamlined certain forms of assistance including educational grants for Hongkongers — would continue with humanitarian measures to help Hongkongers fleeing their city for fear of reprisals.
“Government departments have continued to provide every form of humanitarian relief possible,” Tsai wrote, adding that the authorities are also looking to improve their “rescue efforts” for the people of Hong Kong.
Article 60 of the law stipulates that if any change occurs in Hong Kong or Macau that endangers the security of Taiwan, “The Executive Yuan [Cabinet] may request the President to order suspension of the application of all or part of the provisions of this Act.”
“This could open the door to legislation that could provide asylum to political dissidents in Hong Kong, as there is currently no such provision,” the island’s Central News Agency reported.
It said Article 18 of the act could also be invoked or amended to provide asylum or other assistance to Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters, to allow long-term residency based on “political considerations.”
If the law were to be suspended, then trade, travel, and cultural exchanges could be affected.
Many flee to Taiwan
Taiwan last year saw a sudden spike in the number of Hong Kong residents moving to the country, fleeing the possibility of political arrests, amid months of social unrest and growing uncertainty about the city’s future under Chinese rule.
A total of 5,858 Hongkongers were granted temporary or permanent residency in 2019, a rise of 41.12 percent compared with the previous year.
There was also a 35 percent rise in the number of Hong Kong residents gaining permanent residency in Taiwan, which has never been ruled by the Chinese Communist Party, nor formed part of the People’s Republic of China.
Former Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) official Chen Min-Chi said the Hong Kong and Macau law is one of the few levers the Taiwan government has to exert pressure on China over Hong Kong.
“In wanting to treat Hong Kong as an extension of mainland China … Beijing is effectively declaring that ‘one country, two systems’ is over,” Chen said. “Whether we can have any effect on the situation remains to be seen.”
Bookseller Lam Wing-kee, who fled to Taiwan after being detained by China’s state security police over books he sold in Hong Kong, said the new law will mean that China will have direct political control over Hong Kong.
“It is clear that Hong Kong people now have to decide whether to stay there or go,” Lam said. “There may be a threat to their personal safety, because [the authorities] will use the law whenever they can.”
‘Further resistance unrealistic’
He said plans to continue “resisting” China in Hong Kong didn’t seem realistic to him.
“I don’t see anything in Hong Kong that they can use to put up resistance; they don’t have guns or artillery, do they?” Lam said. “This will become obvious once China starts shooting people.”
He said there was room in Taiwan to accommodate large numbers of people from Hong Kong, however.
“This will not be a burden for Taiwan; they can stand up to China together,” he said. “Helping to protect the people of Hong Kong is a way for the Taiwan government to strengthen their own resistance: why wouldn’t they do that?”
Taiwan-based Hong Kong student activist Ho Wing-tung said he fully expects China to start “cultural cleansing and direct genocide” against the people of Hong Kong who don’t toe the party line.
“[It was happening before via apparent] suicides and abuses against protesters and the arbitrary arrest of dissidents,” Ho said. “It’s just more obvious now, and paves the way for more of the same in future, if we look at Tibet and Xinjiang.”