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Taiwan rolls out red carpet for fleeing Hong Kongers

In a challenge to Beijing, Taiwan aims to attract capital and professionals from the financial hub

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Taiwan rolls out red carpet for fleeing Hong Kongers

Two US-made AH-64E attack helicopters release flares during a drill in Taichung on July 2. The drill took place ahead of the annual Han Kwong military exercises on July 16. (Photo: Taiwan Defence Ministry/AFP)

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Hours after the People's Republic of China passed the controversial security law tightening its grip over Hong Kong on June 30, Taiwan rolled out the red carpet for bankers and other skilled workers fleeing the former British colony.

Taiwan sees a chance to boost its economy with the potential exodus of youngsters from Hong Kong, the Asian financial hub, where the new law now threatens tighter surveillance.

Taiwan has set up an office dedicated to making migration easier for Hong Kong residents and companies, BloombergQuint reported on July 1.

The office will facilitate everything from raising capital to school enrollment and accommodation for migrants from Hong Kong, which Britain handed over to China in 1997 under a unification plan.

"We hope to attract capital and professionals from Hong Kong to Taiwan, especially talent in the financial industry," Mainland Affairs Council Minister Chen Ming-tong said.

To make things easier for the newcomers, he hinted at income tax incentives and a comprehensive review of migration laws.

The move challenges Beijing, which claims Taiwan is a renegade province and regularly threatens military action to unify it with the mainland. 

The movement of people and investment from Hong Kong to Taiwan reached a record level in 2019. According to Bloomberg, between January and May this year, immigration from Hong Kong rose by 96 percent compared with the same period last year, while investments climbed 25 percent.

The Hong Kong security law practically ends the "one country, two systems" principle with which China agreed to administer Hong Kong when the British handed over the city 23 years ago on June 30, 1997.

For Hong Kong people seeking freedom from communist rule, Taiwan offers a familiar language, culture and highly sophisticated healthcare, although it is not yet a member of the United Nations.

Taiwan, officially called the Republic of China, has been accepted as an individual nation only by 14 out of 193 United Nations member states, including the Holy See.

Chinese leaders, including President Xi Jinping, have repeatedly pitched the same "one country, two systems" idea to achieve unification with Taiwan, which parted ways with the mainland during the 1949 Chinese Civil War.

Since then, the two nations divided by the Taiwan Strait have embarked on different paths. To make Taipei fall in line, Beijing has isolated it internationally and occasionally made military threats.

Since the "one country, two systems" framework was raised to lure Taiwan in 1979, China completed its unification plan with Hong Kong and Macau in 1997 and 1999 respectively.

Despite the island nation's close economic connections with the mainland, Taiwanese citizens have always been skeptical about Beijing.

A 2019 survey by the Election Study Center of the National Chengchi University in Taiwan found that 90 percent of respondents expressed little confidence in Chinese assurances under the "one country, two systems" plan.

According to a survey by Taiwan's leading research Institute Academia Sinica in May 2020, an overwhelming majority of Taiwanese no longer regarded the Chinese government as friendly.

Now that China has passed the draconian security legislation in Hong Kong, Taiwan, which has always supported the pro-democracy movement in the semi-autonomous territory, knows that it will also come under the Chinese line of fire in the future.

Though Beijing did not unveil the full text of the security law before it was passed on June 30 by its single-party parliament, news about it surfaced months ago.

Broadly, Taiwan is welcoming those Hong Kongers who are fleeing an extraterritorial security law that criminalizes secession, subversion of state power, terrorism and cooperation with foreign entities. Punishment can be as severe as life in prison. 

Article 38 of the law can apply even to offenses committed "outside the region by a person who is not a permanent resident of the region."

From Beijing's point of view, security law is crucial to safeguard Hong Kong's political stability. The international community and residents see it as a tool to squash the year-long pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.

Faced with Beijing's relentless desire to unify Taiwan, whether peacefully or by force, democracy in Hong Kong is essential for Taiwan, which will now have to fall back more on the United States' security commitment to resist communist China. 

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