OPINION: Taiwan Has Failed Hongkongers on Political Asylum

OPINION: Taiwan Has Failed Hongkongers on Political Asylum
Photo Credit: CNA
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After Joshua Wong's visit to Taiwan, the DPP has taken no action to establish asylum measures to accommodate the young protesters in Hong Kong.

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By Brian Hioe

The Democratic Progress Party (DPP) still made no moves to establish any formalized asylum measures in Taiwan despite last week's high-profile visit by key protest figures from Hong Kong including Joshua Wong, Lester Shum, and Eddie Chu.

The three met with DPP government officials and gave public speeches. During the visit — apart from thanking Taiwanese for their material support of the demonstrations in Hong Kong, as in contributions of gas masks and safety helmets — they also asked Taiwanese government officials to set up provisions for asylum seekers from Hong Kong.

However, after a meeting between Wong and DPP Secretary-General Cho Jung-tai (卓榮泰), the administration responded that individuals seeking asylum in Taiwan will continue to be handled on a case-to-case basis.

黃之鋒等人訪台  赴台中座談(3)
Photo Credit: CNA
DPP Deputy Secretary-General Lin Fei-fan hosts a talk about the political situation in Hong Kong and Taiwan in Taichung with Joshua Wong on September 3, 2019.

Upon returning to Hong Kong, Wong, who was recently arrested and released on bail, was subsequently detained for violating the terms of his bail agreement. Wong said he believed a mistake had been made by the Hong Kong courts, as he had already informed the authorities of his travel plans to not only Taiwan but also the United States and Germany.

Although Wong is not a leader of the current protests, which are primarily leaderless and unstructured, the Hong Kong government is still targeting him and the key leaders of the 2014 Umbrella Movement, perhaps hoping that it can put an end to the ongoing unrest.

Wong’s travel plan seems to involve countries that could potentially make provisions for Hongkongers seeking asylum. Germany, in particular, has already granted asylum to two Hong Kong activists in May 2018.

The Tsai administration's lack of interest in establishing legal measures for Hongkongers seeking asylum is likely due to the fear of an influx of asylum seekers or disrupting Taiwan's cross-strait relations with China. Some have also suggested security concerns over allowing Hongkongers to apply to stay in Taiwan because Chinese nationals could blend into the mix.

Concerns about Chinese infiltration seem to neglect the obvious point that it is already easy for Chinese nationals to enter Taiwan as students or spouses of Taiwanese citizens. Passing a formalized asylum process would in fact provide a better methodology for evaluating and verifying the identification of asylum seekers. By accepting refugee seekers, Taiwan could also further distinguish itself from China in terms of human rights protection.

德貞書院
Photo Credit: Demosistō Facebook
In Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement, students across Hong Kong districts form a human chain to express their demands on September 9, 2019

Yet Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) and other government officials insisted Taiwan’s existing laws provide sufficient opportunities for asylum seekers from Hong Kong. The current refugee act, however, is not applicable to citizens from China, Hong Kong, and Macau, according to the Ministry of Interior.

For Hongkongers to relocate to Taiwan, they can invest NT$6 million (US$192,000), obtain a work visa, set up a business, or study at a local university under the current provisions. But these options would favor wealthy Hongkongers who have enough financial resources rather than the protesters who are facing rioting charges.

The administration's facile arguments disguise its primary worry of angering China. The unusual cautiousness on provoking China is irrational at times, although the DPP has long rejected the 1992 Consensus. Even on the issue of Taiwanese human rights activist Lee Ming-che (李明哲) being imprisoned in China for over two years, the Tsai administration has stayed relatively quiet.

Taiwanese authorities also neglected the more recent disappearance of Lee Meng-chu (李孟居), a Taiwanese activist who participated in the Hong Kong protests. Apart from requesting that China clarify Lee’s whereabouts, the administration has not raised attention to the case in any substantive way.

李孟居遊港失聯
Photo Credit: CNA
Pintung County’s Fangliao Township resident and political activist Lee Meng-chu (right) has been missing since August 20, 2019 when he entered the Chinese border via Shenzhen.

Over 30 Hong Kong activists have fled to Taiwan after the July 1 occupation of the Hong Kong Legislative Council. They have since gone underground without an appropriate long-term visa. The urgency to establish an asylum procedure, then, should concern these activists who are already residing in Taiwan.

Some of these young protesters might not even be 18 years old, who might have arrived with little awareness of Taiwan’s lack of asylum protection. Would the Taiwanese government seek to subject the international world to the spectacle of deporting the activists to Hong Kong to face years in jail?

Activist exchanges between Hong Kong and Taiwan sometimes go back to almost a decade, with the key figures from the Sunflower Movement and Umbrella Movement actually knowing one another before either movement took place. Recently appointed as DPP's deputy secretary-general, Sunflower Movement student leader Lin Fei-fan (林飛帆) has been among the government officials to meet with Wong during his visit to Taiwan. A few younger candidates have also joined the DPP this year, but these individuals are not yet in positions high enough where they can determine policy for the party as a whole.

But given the Tsai administration’s inaction, it seems as if all these years of claiming solidarity between Taiwan and Hong Kong may have simply been talk.

The News Lens has been authorized to repost this article. The original post was published on New Bloom.

TNL Editor: Daphne K. Lee (@thenewslensintl)

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