Taiwan President, Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), reinforced her administration's support for the democratic ambitions of Hong Kong residents on Thursday, posting a response on Facebook to a petition from an international student organization from the city who oppose amending Hong Kong law to permit extradition to China, and addressing the situation at a press conference.

Critics of the amendment fear that it is a Trojan horse which would open an avenue by which Hong Kong residents who cross the Chinese Communist Party may be extradited and tried in the notoriously opaque courts of the People's Republic of China.

At an afternoon press conference, President Tsai told assembled reporters, "This substantial protest movement in Hong Kong has attracted the whole world's attention. Seeing Hong Kong police firing tear gas and rubber bullets directly into people is an especially shocking and unbearable sight."

"The people of Hong Kong have the right to pursue democracy and freedom. They have the right to choose their own way to live and govern themselves."

"Taiwan is a bastion of democracy in Asia, and we will always support these values."

Tsai has posted messages to social media consistently throughout the week, rejecting the 'One country, two systems' framework under which China governs Hong Kong, and stating support for the protesters there.

On Thursday morning, the President's Office acceded to a request from the Extradition Law Concern Group of Hong Kong Students and Graduates in Taiwan (在台香港學生及畢業生逃犯條例關注組 ), and invited them into the Presidential Palace to submit their petition letter.

Taiwan University of Art freshman, Gary Cheung, speaking for the concern group, outlined the group's three requests to President Tsai: Taiwan should add a human rights review to the Act Governing Relations with Hong Kong and Macau (香港澳門關係法), to prevent perpetrators of violence against civilians from entering the country; To request a solitary transfer of murder suspect Chen Tongjia (陳同佳) to Taiwan for trial without establishing a lasting extradition treaty; And that Taiwan use diplomatic influence to bring pressure to bear on Hong Kong to prevent the Extradition Law amendment from reaching the third reading in the legislature.

Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council already officially indicated back in early May that it will not seek the extradition of the murder suspect under proposed changes to the extradition law. Furthermore, Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) Deputy Minister Chiu Chui-cheng (邱垂正) noted that three separate requests for help from the Taiwanese Police to the Hong Kong Police had been met with silence. He also warned that the proposed amendment was unnecessary and had severe implications for freedom in Hong Kong.


Photo Credit: Michael Garber

Five of the 10 members of Extradition Law Concern Group of Hong Kong Students and Graduates in Taiwan pose before entering the Presidential Palace. Gary Cheung is holding the petition letter conveying the group's requests to President Tsai.

"This morning a group of Hong Kong students came to the Presidential Palace to request an audience. As I had prior work to attend to, I asked Presidential Office Secretary-General, Chen Chu (陳菊), to meet with them. We expressed our concern for them, and listened to their opinions," Tsai said at the press conference on Thursday.

The students attend different schools in Taiwan, and mostly were not acquainted with one another until a few weeks ago, when the issue of the Extradition Law and the protests against it in Hong Kong increased sharply.

Gary Cheung told the protesters, "Taiwan and Hong Kong's fates are intertwined. Say a person in Taiwan criticizes the CCP, if this Extradition Bill actually gets passed in Hong Kong, any Taiwanese person who says things like that could be arrested in Hong Kong by the public security apparatus. Then, be extradited to China, a country with no rule of law."

In the President's reply, she told the news conference, "We will also reject the transfer of any cases [from Hong Kong] premised on this amendment. Cooperation in crime fighting cannot be premised on a bill that violates human rights, we are not willing to be accomplices to an evil law. The protests in Hong Kong have entrenched the feeling in the people of Taiwan that 'One country, two systems' is not feasible, and that democratic Taiwan can't accept it."

A day earlier, the Hong Kong students and several hundred supporters held a protest outside the Hong Kong Cultural and Economic Affairs Office in Taipei, concurrent with the protest outside the Legislative Council (LegCo) in Hong Kong.

A day later, in heavy rain, the crowd in front of the Presidential Palace on Thursday morning numbered just over 40 protesters, and half as many reporters, both conversing with one another in Cantonese and Mandarin. The group held signs saying "No extradition to China", and "No White Terror for Hong Kong, oppose extradition to China".

A Hong Kong native, who requested to be referred to as Origin Chan (陳同學), told The News Lens "I have a lot of friends who attended the march and got searched, or they got beat up. Maybe they were just joining the crowd, but then the police treated them like punks and beat them."

"I even saw reporters on a live video stream and the police apparently didn't care that they were reporters. They were blocked from doing interviews, or even beaten up!””

"This is a serious violation of human rights and personal safety. This government is so shameless, they don't even know shame. [Hong Kong Chief Executive] Carrie Lam (林鄭月娥) needs to step down."


Photo Credit: Michael Garber

Gary Cheung speaks to media at the rally.

Chan was among ten representatives from the group invited into the President's Office to submit their petition. The group were transported by police vehicle from the protest site to the South gate of the Presidential Palace, then escorted inside.

Lin Fei-fan (林飛帆), one of the leaders of the 2014 Sunflower Movement in Taiwan, and a supporter of the Hong Kong protesters, was waiting outside the South gate for the Hong Kong delegation to arrive. He said the protest movements in Taiwan and Hong Kong have maintained contact since at least 2012, and compared the response in each to the major occupation movements that struck both in 2014.

"There were cases of police brutality during the Sunflower Movement as well," Lin told The News Lens. He said he also received anonymous threats at the time, "There were even threats directed at my family. But, to compare that to Hong Kong, where there is direct political pressure, to the degree that they can just throw you in jail, it's not quite the same."

Back at the protest site, Taiwanese and Hong Kong protesters waited for news, and discussed their concerns for friends and family in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong native, Daniel Wong, a graduate student in Taiwan said the older generation of Hong Kongers typically avoided open conflict, until now.

"When this China Extradition issue broke out, I witnessed elders coming out to demonstrate as well. On June 9, we saw over 1.03 million people marching. It's obvious that if one in seven people (in Hong Kong) is on the street, that doesn't mean the other six are opposed to us. So it's plain that all Hong Kong opposes this law."

Sally, an undergraduate Hong Konger, described observing older Hong Kong residents taking to the streets via video stream.

Holding back tears, Sally told The News Lens, "The thing that made the greatest impression on me was a mature woman, a 'Hong Kong mom'. She said she'd already taken so many teargas blasts, and still she demanded 'Why are you aiming at our children?!'

"She said to the cops, 'You have kids! Why are you aiming at us? Why are you harming our children like this?'"

"Then I thought, what's her back story? Then, just as the camera angle adjusted she took a very close range blast from a teargas canister. I was so moved, I thought, 'Hong Kong's elders aren't letting us go into battle alone, they're standing up for us, and using their frail bodies to shield us."

Sally expressed a sentiment repeated by many Hong Kong protesters, as well as by Lin Fei-fan; that there is no way for Hong Kong citizens to achieve self determination within the existing political structure.

Sally recalled the atmosphere of the last major protests to rock Hong Kong, "I attended the Umbrella Movement too, and felt so impotent. But was moved to see my fellow Hong Kongers stand up for their own future, resisting government oppression, even though our chances were slim. We knew that if we didn't stand up for ourselves, then we'd lose everything."

"But this time, I really feel like this is our last chance, if this law passes, then Hong Kong will simply become China. We don't have any independent law enforcement, the whole 'one country, two systems' is just bullshit!"

About 90 minutes after departing, the student representatives returned and reported that in lieu of the President, they were granted an audience with Presidential Office Secretary-General, and former mayor of Kaohsiung City, Chen Chu (陳菊).

The assembled protesters also received a transmission of digital encouragement for their struggle from an icon of the Hong Kong democracy movement. Via video chat, Nathan Law Kwun-Chung (羅冠聰) closed out the event with a speech delivered over a scratchy speaker. Once, a former protest leader during Hong Kong's 2014 Umbrella Movement, Law was elected to the legislative council in 2016 on a pro-democracy platform, before he was disqualified on a technicality.


Photo Credit: Michael Garber

Hong Kong student protesters in Taipei receive a video call from Nathan Law Kwun-Chung (羅冠聰), a former protest leader during Hong Kong's 2014 Umbrella Movement, and a pro-democracy member of the legislative council in 2016, before he was disqualified on a technicality.

By 3 p.m., just hours after submitting their request to the President of Taiwan, the Hong Kong students had their response in the form of a full-throated endorsement from President Tsai of their right to freedom from oppression, and to self determination.

Riding a wave of popular approval for her positions on human rights, Taiwan sovereignty, and opposition to China's hegemony, by noon Thursday, President Tsai also managed to secure her party's primary nomination to run for another term. But among those in Taiwan who have yet to be convinced by her pitch are some of the Hong Kong students who petitioned her office that very morning.

Reached for comment after Tsai's press conference, Gary Cheung lamented that she offered brave words, but little substance.

"Regarding President Tsai's reply to our petition, she certainly emphasized that Hong Kong's government should not ram the extradition law through, but we wish she would respond directly to the three requests we made in the President's Office."

"That includes, Taiwan should add a human rights review to the Act Governing Relations with Hong Kong and Macau, request a one-off transfer of Chen Tongjia (陳同佳) to Taiwan for trial, and using diplomatic influence to pressure Hong Kong not to pass the Extradition Law."

"I hope that President Tsai can use practical actions to defend the human rights, and personal safety, of the people of Taiwan and Hong Kong."

Some names in this article have been changed to protect the identity of the people interviewed.

Read next: Hong Kong Students in Taiwan Condemn "Puppet" Government, Urge: Stop Police Violence

More information: The Extradition Law Concern Group of Hong Kong Students and Graduates in Taiwan in association with various Taiwan NGOs will hold a rally, ' No to extradition to China! - Taiwan with Hong Kong!', outside the Legislative Yuan in Taipei on Sunday, 16 June from 2-5 p.m. Facebook event page.

Editor: Cat Thomas