Taiwan postpones scheme to help Hong Kongers over espionage fears | political news

Taiwan has indefinitely postponed a scheme that would have made it easier for professionals from Hong Kong and Macau to become permanent residents or citizens, following concerns from lawmakers over possible infiltration by Chinese agents.

The arrangement of the island’s Mainland Affairs Council is said to have allowed professionals who had worked in Taiwan for five years and earned an income twice the national minimum wage to apply for more permanent status. They would also not have been required to relinquish their Hong Kong or Macau citizenships had they applied to become Taiwanese, unlike ordinary citizens of China.

Most foreign professionals can apply for permanent residency after five years of employment, but people from Hong Kong and Macau had to meet other criteria, such as having a Taiwanese family, a Taiwanese spouse, or working in specific industries.

Lawmaker Lo Chih-cheng, head of the ruling People’s Democratic Party International Affairs Department, said lawmakers were concerned it was difficult to determine who was a true “Hong Konger” or “Macanese.”

“Some people in Taiwan tend to see the so-called Hong Kong people as different from the Hong Kong people they used to know,” he said. “There are concerns about China’s infiltration into Hong Kong society and there are also concerns about Hong Kongers working for Beijing.”

Taiwanese have been vocal supporters of Hong Kong’s 2019 democracy protests, which are said to have boosted President Tsai Ing-wen’s 2020 reelection campaign, which struggled in the months before the demonstrations began.

The protests and their aftermath have taken on additional significance for Taiwanese as an example of how Beijing’s promises cannot be trusted.

Limits to support

Former European colonies, Hong Kong and Macau, were returned to Chinese sovereignty in the late 1990s and until recently enjoyed certain rights and freedoms not found on the mainland under the so-called “one country, two systems” framework that Beijing also offered as a potential governance structure for Taiwan, which it claims as its own territory.

For Hong Kong, ‘one country, two systems’ had to protect the special position of the area and guarantee that people could continue their ‘way of life’ with all its rights and privileges for at least 50 years.

The imposition of national security legislation in 2020 has effectively ended those freedoms, while Macau will see stricter national security laws this year.

But while some of those involved in the protests have found refuge in Taiwan, the resistance to migration is an indication that even in Taiwan there are limits to how far it will go in supporting those fleeing Beijing.

Lawmakers from Tsai’s DPP and the pro-Taiwan independence New Power Party are some of the most vocal in their concerns about potential security risks.

“There is a lot of near-unanimous symbolic support for Hong Kongers in the sense that Taiwanese can look at what’s happening in Hong Kong and be like ‘we don’t want that to happen to us, and we feel bad about what’s happening to Hong Kongers ’” said Lev Nachman, a postdoctoral researcher at the Harvard Fairbank Center.

“But that is qualitatively different from, for example, substantive support in the field of policy. We see a lot of variation, which means that not everyone wants a pro-Hong Kong policy,” he said.

Nachman led a research team in 2021 that surveyed 1,000 Taiwanese people about their feelings about Hong Kong and found that while most were sympathetic, this did not translate into a desire for legislative action, according to results published in Foreign Policy.

Since their return to Chinese rule and the liberalization of visa requirements, Hong Kong and Macau have emerged as popular destinations for mainland Chinese. Hong Kong’s population has grown by one million since the transfer in 1997, while Macau’s population has grown by 50 percent from about 418,000 in 1999 to nearly 650,000, according to World Bank data.

Lo said many Taiwanese were also concerned about potential competition from Hong Kong’s highly skilled workforce, despite the likely stimulus to the island’s economy.

“Personally, I think we should take this opportunity to recruit the best talents from Hong Kong, given the deterioration of human rights and freedom in Hong Kong, it is the best opportunity for Taiwan to recruit to attract the best talent” , he said.

Generation risk

Taiwanese have expressed skepticism about the new immigration plan online, particularly from social media accounts linked to pro-Taiwan independence views, said Chen-en Sung, the deputy CEO of the Taiwan New Constitution Foundation, a government-affiliated legal group. .

He told Al Jazeera that many of their concerns about Chinese infiltration by people from Hong Kong and Macau were hypocritical, as Taiwanese have also championed Beijing’s interests.

“Even if [new immigrants] are pro-China in origin, I think Taiwan is an open society, and we have the capacity to accommodate those views, not to mention that many of our own citizens have pro-China and anti-independence views have,” he said.

However, Eric Tsui Sing-yan, a visiting researcher at Academia Sinica’s Institute of Taiwan History, says there is cause for caution, despite having fled the city himself in 2020 for fear he could be under investigation for two books. which he wrote about Hong Kong.

“This question is complicated. People from Hong Kong are not 100 percent safe because Hong Kong is a complex place with all kinds of people,” he told Al Jazeera, referring to a decades-long campaign of infiltration by the Chinese Communist Party of Hong Kong’s trade unions into the upper echelons of the government. society.

Tsui said the problem is largely demographic: most people under 30 are probably at low risk because of their well-documented dislike of Beijing and pro-Hong Kong sentiments, while older people with potential business ties to the mainland were higher. -risk.

He said Taiwan’s current policy inadvertently courted the second group by focusing on professionals and people who are able to make substantial financial contributions.

“Current policies attract high-risk groups and expel low-risk groups,” Tsui said. “Yes, there is a security risk, but it’s not the same for all Hong Kongers. The risk differs per generation.”

In 2020, Taiwan established an office to help people fleeing political persecution in Hong Kong after about 200 former protesters fled there, activists estimate. Since then, the office has helped some 100 protesters, according to government media, although efforts have been hampered by two years of strict border controls to contain COVID-19.

The government is also under no obligation to assist potential refugees as it is not a party to international refugee conventions due to Taiwan’s disputed political status.

However, measures have recently been relaxed to allow students from Hong Kong and Macau to study at Taiwanese secondary and vocational schools, while many are already studying at Taiwanese universities.

These measures do not directly apply to professionals from Hong Kong and Macau who already work in Taiwan and want to stay permanently.

According to government data, about 11,000 people moved from Hong Kong to Taiwan last year, a fraction of the 89,000 who left the city between June 2020 and June 2021.

The vast majority chose to move to the United Kingdom, the area’s former colonial ruler, where anyone born before the handover in 1997 – about 5.4 million people – will qualify for a special immigration regime. More than 100,000 people have applied for the scheme since January 2021, according to the UK Home Office.

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