Asia Politics

Taiwan slams Hong Kong national security law, opens office to help city's residents

Key Points
  • The Taiwan-Hong Kong office opened in Taipei on Wednesday, one day after China's national security law for Hong Kong was implemented.
  • The office will provide special consultation and assistance services for Hong Kong people in the areas of study, employment, investment, entrepreneurship, immigration, and residency, said Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council.
Chen Ming-tong (L), Minister of Taiwans Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) and Katharine Chang, Chairwoman of TaiwanHong Kong Economic and Cultural Co-operation Council, unveil a sign during a launch ceremony of the Taiwan-Hong Kong Office for Exchange and Services in Taipei on July 1, 2020.
Sam Yeh | AFP | Getty Images

Taiwan has opened an office to help handle the applications of people from Hong Kong who want to resettle in the island.

It comes as China this week passed a new national security law in Hong Kong that's sparked concerns about the erosion of freedoms and rights in the special administrative region.

The Taiwan-Hong Kong Office for Exchanges and Services in Taipei was opened on Wednesday. It was the same day Hong Kong marked the 23rd anniversary of its transfer of sovereignty from Britain to China on July 1, 1997.

Late Tuesday night, China implemented the controversial Hong Kong national security law. The Taiwanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs has said it "strongly condemns" the legislation.

"The Hong Kong national security law reflects a complete negation of the commitment made by the Chinese Communist Party at the handover of Hong Kong that its way of life would 'remain unchanged for 50 years,'" Taiwan's foreign affairs ministry said in a statement on Tuesday.

"The law will seriously undermine Hong Kong's high degree of autonomy, significantly restrict freedom of expression and judicial independence, decimate the rule of law, erode core values such as freedom, human rights and rule of law, and cause tremendous social upheaval, while also affecting peace, stability and prosperity in the region," it said.

'One country, two systems'

Hong Kong, a former British colony, is ruled under the "one country, two systems" principle which was to last for 50 years, or until 2047. It was part of the agreement signed by the U.K. and China when the territory was handed over in 1997.

Some world leaders, including U.K Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, as well as U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have openly spoken out against the law. They argue it undermines the freedoms and autonomy promised to the Chinese territory when it was handed over.

Taiwan's president Tsai Ing-wen pledged assistance to Hong Kongers in May, after Beijing proposed the law.

In June, Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council introduced the Hong Kong Humanitarian Aid Project, which would be responsible for operating the Taiwan-Hong Kong office.

The office will provide special consultation and assistance to Hong Kong people in the areas of study, employment, investment, entrepreneurship, immigration, and residency, said the council. It will also assist multinational enterprises and international corporations relocating from Hong Kong to Taiwan.

"The Office will also pragmatically handle affairs related to humanitarian assistance and care for Hong Kong citizens based on national security considerations," it added.

Support from Taiwan

About 200 Hong Kongers have already fled to Taiwan since pro-democracy protests erupted in the Chinese special administrative territory last year, Reuters reported, citing rights groups.

Taiwan's Foreign Affairs Minister, Dr. Joseph Wu, said in a podcast with Australian think tank Lowy Institute that the island stands with Hong Kong on the side of democracy.

"For those people who come to Taiwan for political reasons, or who are afraid of political persecution back in China or in Hong Kong, we will try to provide assistance to them in a very low-key way," Wu said last month before the national security law was passed.

However, he added: "We don't want complications for their lives or for Taiwan's relations with China."

The point underscored the complexity of Taipei's own relationship with Beijing. China claims self-ruled Taiwan as part of its territory, but the Chinese Communist Party has never governed Taiwan.

Hong Kong is an international financial center and the implementation of China's national security law is viewed with caution by some businesses amid concerns over greater oversight of the city.

Before the law was passed, more than 80% of the U.S. companies in Hong Kong surveyed by the American Chamber of Commerce said they were concerned about China's plan to impose the new national security law in the city.

In May, some rich Chinese were already looking to park their assets in other wealth hubs such as Singapore, Switzerland and London, Reuters reported, citing bankers and industry sources.

A top government agency in Taiwan, the Mainland Affairs Council, said in its press release Taipei "hopes to attract Hong Kong capital and talent to strengthen and expand Taiwan's economic development." 

Taiwan may be next

Taiwan is broadly sympathetic to Hong Kong, as the island faces an increasingly aggressive China.

The relationship between China and Taiwan is complex.

The Nationalist Party or KMT — a major political party in Taiwan now — had governed China for decades before losing to the Chinese Communist Party in a civil war. In 1949, the KMT fled to Taiwan (now officially called the Republic of China) where it was the ruling party for more than 50 years.

The Chinese Communist Party, which currently governs China, has never governed Taiwan. It claims the self-ruled island is part of the mainland that must be reunited with China. 

A Pew Research Center survey published in May showed Taiwanese – particularly the younger ones – do not identify with mainland China.

Despite the political differences, people and businesses on the island maintain close economic and social ties with the mainland, and Beijing has been trying to win over Taiwan.

The Chinese government has also been trying to sell Hong Kong's "one country, two systems" framework to Taipei for years.

However, the Taiwanese are even more wary of Beijing after last year's protests in Hong Kong calling for greater democracy. That helped Tsai from the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party secure her second term during January's presidential election.  

Beijing views Tsai as a separatist and has cut off official communications with Taiwan since 2016, when she won the first time.

Recently, China has been conducting a number of military drills near Taiwan, "disturbing" the island, Taiwan Premier Su Tseng-chang said last week.

"If the Chinese government can take away Hong Kong, and to bring down Hong Kong's freedom and human rights, I think Taiwan is going to be the next," said Wu, Taiwan's minister of foreign affairs, said in Lowy Institute's podcast.

While Hong Kong was a former British colony that returned to Chinese rule, Taiwan is not under China's jurisdiction, according to Wu.

"And therefore, we are calling upon the international society to look at Taiwan as an outpost of democracy in fighting against the expansion of authoritarianism. We are a frontline state and we cannot allow Taiwan to be taken over by China," he said in the podcast.