Hong Kong immigrants hope for more support through Taiwan election

This photo taken on Dec 22, 2023, shows a cyclist next to two Taiwanese national flags in Taipei. [AFP]

Running for political office in Taiwan was never the plan for 72-year-old Hong Kong immigrant Chui Pak-tai, but the former pro-democracy district councilor in the former British colony hopes to put the Hong Kong issue back onto the Taiwan public agenda.

During Taiwan’s last presidential election, in 2020, protests against the Hong Kong government’s proposal to amend the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance which critics said would allow Hong Kongers to be sent to China for trial dominated the campaign. Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party doubled down on the need to  support Hong Kongers and the slogan “Today Hong Kong, Tomorrow Taiwan” was widely featured throughout the campaign.

“Following the monthslong anti-extradition bill movement in Hong Kong in 2019, a lot of Hong Kongers want to move to Taiwan, but due to national security concerns, authorities in Taiwan have made the criteria for Hong Kong people to acquire residency in Taiwan more stringent, which makes it more difficult for Hong Kongers to settle down in Taiwan,” Chiu told VOA in an interview at his campaign office in New Taipei City.

Since August 2020, Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, which handles China, Hong Kong, and Macau issues, has increased scrutiny of Hong Kong residents’ applications to move to Taiwan, citing risks of foreign infiltration and espionage.

The policy shift caused in a sharp drop in the number of Hong Kongers receiving permanent residence in Taiwan. According to data from Taiwan’s National Immigration Agency, while more than 31,700 Hong Kongers received temporary residency in Taiwan between January 2020 and November 2023, only 5,700 received permanent residency.

Chiu said many Hong Kongers spend their entire savings to move to Taiwan, but after failing to secure residency, they are forced to look for another destination.

“This lengthy process has made some Hong Kongers’ situation very miserable, and since they may have spent a large amount of their savings to come to Taiwan, it becomes more difficult for them to go to other places,” he told VOA.

Other Hong Kong immigrants also echo the frustration described by Chiu. Some told VOA that despite promising support for Hong Kongers during the 2020 presidential election, the Democratic Progressive Party has not carried through on its promises.

“Taiwan’s current policy is making things very difficult for Hong Kongers,” Angus Fung, a 39-year-old business owner, told VOA by phone. “Hong Kongers and Taiwanese people are like brothers and sisters, so I don’t understand why the Taiwanese authorities have to create a situation where the close relationship between the two groups seems to have been destroyed.”

As the first Hong Kong immigrant to run in Taiwan’s election, Chiu said he hopes to use the campaign to bring attention to Hong Kongers’ tough situation.

“I hope to speak up for Hong Kongers in Taiwan through my participation in the election, and I hope Taiwanese people can understand the situation that Hong Kongers are facing,” he told VOA.

Some analysts say that while Taiwan’s government led by the ruling Democratic Progressive Party promised to offer as much support as they could to Hong Kong people during the presidential election campaign in 2019, the Taiwanese government and the ruling party “overpromised.”

“Their rhetoric during the last election cycle was very robust in the sense that they claimed that they were going to be doing as much as they could to relocate Hong Kongers in need and that they were building meaningful institutions to help Hong Kongers,” Lev Nachman, a political scientist at National Chengchi University in Taiwan, told VOA by phone.

Nachman said a lot of the promises did not come to fruition, making many young Hong Kongers expecting to receive support feel unwelcome in Taiwan.

In response to the criticism, the Mainland Affairs Council told VOA that given dramatic changes to Hong Kong’s political system and demographic structure, as well as the risks of infiltration from China, authorities have a responsibility to step up the vetting of Hong Kongers’ residency applications.

“The authorities conduct a substantive examination and handle the application in a prudent manner in compliance with the laws and regulations,” the MAC said in a written response.

Despite the general disappointment in Taiwan’s handling of Hong Kongers’ immigration applications, some first-time voters from Hong Kong still think they want to support Democratic Progressive Party presidential candidate Vice President Lai Ching-te because they see him as the only one who can safeguard Taiwan’s democratic way of life amid growing threats from China.

For these Hong Kong voters, the erosion of basic rights and freedom in Hong Kong since Beijing imposed the National Security Law there in 2020 is a reflection of the threat China poses to Taiwan -- China considers it part of its territory and has vowed to reunite the island by force if necessary.

“China promised Hong Kong people that nothing will change under the one country, two systems model for 50 years, but it’s only been 26 years since Hong Kong was handed over back to China and everything has changed in the city,” Gerald Tsui, a 64-year-old Hong Kong immigrant, told VOA in Taipei.

In his view, the DPP, which pursues deeper engagement with the United States and other like-minded democracies, is the only political party to ensure that Taiwan does not succumb to Chinese pressure.

“The DPP has more international vision and they have a good relationship with the U.S.,” he said, adding that these relationships are important for Taiwan.

Others expressed distrust in the proposal to restore closer ties with China presented by the two opposition parties, the China-friendly Kuomintang and Taiwan People’s Party.

“I don’t want to see Taiwan become too closely connected to China in areas related to politics and security, because we Hong Kongers know what the Chinese authorities would do,” Pamela Yuen, a 60-year-old bar owner, told VOA in Taipei.