Beijing never fully intended the “one country, two systems” formula to be a permanent fixture in its relationship with Hong Kong, and as tensions rise between the central government and the former British colony, control over who is allowed to enter the territory has become a hot issue.

Although Beijing never had a completely hands-off approach to immigration controls in Hong Kong, which had a certain degree of freedom to decide who could come in or not, its meddling in such decisions deepened markedly following Occupy Central and the Umbrella Movement. Since then, several individuals have been denied entry into the territory.

All of this is in line with a tightening of controls across China and in Hong Kong, which is now undermining artistic, journalistic and academic freedoms in the hitherto liberal territory. The ostensible aim is to deny physical contact between presumably “dangerous” elements in Hong Kong and equally “dangerous” people from Taiwan. The back and forth between activists and liberal academics from the two societies since the spring of 2014 had indeed accelerated, and the last thing a paranoid Chinese Communist Party (CCP) wants to see is for “anti-Beijing” elements in Taiwan and Hong Kong to create a front to counter Beijing’s predatory — and sometimes atavistic — ideology.

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The list of banned individuals from Taiwan is getting longer, and doesn’t just include “rabble rousers” from the Sunflower Movement.

In November 2013, Wu’er Kaixi, one of the Tiananmen student leaders in 1989, was denied entry as he was attempting to enter China to be reunited with his parents, whom he had not seen in more than twenty years.

In May 2014, Tseng Chien-yuan (曾建元), an associate professor of public administration at Chung Hua University in Hsinchu, was told that his Mainland Travel Permit for Taiwan Residents had been cancelled and was sent back to Taiwan. A board member of the New School for Democracy (華人民主書院), Tseng was planning to attend an international seminar at City University in Hong Kong to mark the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre.

In June 2014, Su Yeong-chin (蘇永欽), then vice president of the Judicial Yuan and younger brother of former National Security Council Secretary-General Su Chi (蘇起), was denied a visa to enter Hong Kong. The younger Su, who comes from the conservative camp within then president Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) Kuomintang (KMT), was expected to deliver a keynote address at Hong Kong University’s Faculty of Law on the subject of transitions from authoritarian rule.

Later in June that same year, student activists and Sunflower Movement leaders Lin Fei-fan (林飛帆) and Chen Wei-ting (陳為廷) were denied visas to enter Hong Kong to attend events later that month. Huang Kuo-chang (黃國昌), then an associate research fellow at Academia Sinica and now chairman of the Taiwan-centric New Power Party, was also denied a visa that same month. Huang was again denied an entry visa in January 2016 to take part in a panel on Taiwan’s general elections at CNN’s Hong Kong studios (CNN decided to dispatch a team to Taiwan instead).

This week we learned that Beijing has denied former KMT spokesperson Yang Wei-chung (楊偉中) a visa to Hong Kong to attend a forum. Yang, who was expelled from the party in June for being too critical of its current positions, has since become a member of the Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) administration’s Committee on Illegal Party Asset Settlement. Fan Shih-ping (范世平), an adviser to the Mainland Affairs Council, and former Democratic Progressive Party legislator Julian Kuo (郭正亮) were also denied entry. Both were scheduled to speak at the same forum. Only Shu Chin-chiang (蘇進強), a senior advisor at the Institute for National Policy Research (INPR), was “palatable” enough to be given a visa.

According to reports in Hong Kong media, the decision came at the order of Beijing's Liaison Office in the territory. The same reports indicate that the Taiwan Affairs Office has instructed Hong Kong authorities that anyone who holds office in the DPP administration is now barred from entering Hong Kong.

Non-Taiwanese have also been subject to entry restrictions. In November 2014, Richard Graham, the chairman of the All Party Parliamentary China Group of the British Parliament, was denied a visa to enter the territory. His “crime” was apparently to have expressed his support for freedom in Hong Kong during a parliamentary debate in October.

The denial of visas to insulate (and isolate) Hong Kong also seems to work both ways. In April this year, Ray Wong Toi-yeung (黃台仰), the founder of Hong Kong Indigenous, and Alex Chow Yong-kang (周永康), the former secretary general of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, were both denied visas to enter India to attend the InterEthnic InterFaith Leadership Conference. The Indian government’s decision was presumably due to pressure from Beijing.

The list goes on. And in the current environment of uncertainty in Hong Kong, where activists are increasingly willing to challenge Beijing, control over immigration — who comes in, who goes out — will conceivably be used more frequently as an instrument by which to deny individuals contact with Hong Kong’s society.

But freedom will find a way.

First Editor: Olivia Yang
Second Editor: Edward White