Protesters wave Taiwanese flags during a rally in Hong Kong against a China extradition bill in 2019. Photo: Facebook

Taiwanese authorities said there would be no need to enact new laws to grant asylum to Hong Kong citizens fleeing prosecution as existing regulations and clauses offer a quicker and easier route to residency than a proposed political refugee bill.

Article 18 of an existing law governing relations with mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau stipulate that necessary assistance shall be provided to residents from the two former European colonies if their safety and freedom are threatened by political reasons back home.

Hong Kong citizens who enter the island as tourists can apply to stay for up to three months, with another three-month extension easily available. They can then apply for temporary or permanent residency if they meet any one of the 16 conditions listed, including marrying a Taiwanese or setting up a business with a low threshold of capital investment.

Observers say that Hong Kong protesters who face charges of rioting or illegal assembly and choose to seek shelter in Taiwan can make use of the lenient policy to remain on the island and ultimately gain residency. They would not be viewed as criminals or fugitives in Taiwan and would never be sent back to Hong Kong or China to face trial due to the lack of an extradition treaty.

A refugee bill proposed by some Taiwanese lawmakers, however, may have stringent requirements for granting refugee status, such as verification by the United Nations Refugee Agency, as well as vetting evidence and conducting interviews.

It was reported that more than 30 people from Hong Kong had fled to Taiwan after jumping bail. They said they had no confidence in the Hong Kong government or the city’s judiciary, even though their cases had yet to be heard, despite the fact that some would stand a strong chance of being acquitted by a Hong Kong court.

Beijing has warned Taiwan not to offer asylum or sanctuary or harbor fugitives who committed serious crimes or spread malicious thoughts.

Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office said last week that the island’s offer to shelter activists would turn Taiwan into a “haven for criminals,” put the safety and well-being of Taiwanese at stake and fan further violence in Hong Kong.

A Chinese flag that was thrown into Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor by young protesters. Photo: Facebook
Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen notes on her Facebook page that Taiwan would back Hong Kong in its quest for democracy.

Beijing’s warning came after Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen spoke publicly on multiple occasions since the outbreak of protests and unrest in Hong Kong, saying her government would offer humanitarian assistance to those who fled to Taiwan and that Taiwanese were sympathetic towards the people of Hong Kong.

This was especially true when the city’s liberty and freedoms were being strangled and when Beijing’s “one country, two systems” promises existed in name only, she said.

Tsai added that Taiwan supported Hong Kong’s people in seeking freedom and democracy, and that Beijing and the Hong Kong government should ditch the hysterical mindset which blamed a “non-existent external force” for the problems there.

She was referring to accusations that Taiwan helped whip up anti-Beijing and anti-government sentiment in Hong Kong.

After more than 11 weeks of protests, the Hong Kong government’s obstinate refusal to agree to demands like withdrawing the China extradition bill and looking into alleged police brutality has seen a sharp rise in the number of Hongkongers wanting to move to Taiwan, according to public opinion polls and Taiwan’s National Immigration Agency.

Some media reports have put the total number of Hong Kong citizens living in Taiwan at between 5% and 10% of the island’s total population.

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