A China Airlines passenger jet sits on the tarmac at Hong Kong’s airport. The carrier's name may be counterproductive to Taiwan's quest for its own identity. Photo: WikiMedia

Taiwan’s education ministry said on Friday that more than 500 students had returned to the island on flights chartered by the government, almost half the total number of Taiwanese students enrolled in universities in Hong Kong in the current academic year.

Of all the tertiary institutions in Hong Kong, the Chinese University has the most Taiwanese students. Its campus in the New Territories was also the hardest-hit by the intensifying clashes between anti-government protesters and the police, which started on Monday.

Taiwan’s education ministry has established an interagency task force to contact the remaining students in Hong Kong and offer assistance and coordination when they request. But there are still some who choose to remain in the protest-hit city.

Arrangements have also been made for universities in Taiwan to offer places and credit courses to students who want to transfer to a local university to segue into the next level of their studies.

Taiwanese students studying in Hong Kong hold a Taiwanese flag during a rally. Photo: Facebook

Taiwanese papers also reported that the island’s authorities had also requested China Airlines and EVA Air to stand by to quickly deploy wide-body jets to airlift not only the students but also Taiwanese residents who work or live in Hong Kong.

A flight between Hong Kong and Taipei as well as other key cities on the island is only a 70-minute hop, so a passenger jet could fly two round trips without the need to refuel, enabling a swift evacuation should the situation in Hong Kong deteriorate.

A contingency plan was made overnight when international news agencies including Agence France-Presse reported on Thursday that the Hong Kong government was on the cusp of announcing a curfew banning all residents from going outside or joining rallies at night, starting from the coming weekend, citing a tweet by the Beijing-based Global Times which was deleted not long after it was published.

It is estimated that close to 80,000 Taiwanese now live in Hong Kong, mostly through marriage or employment.

Besides helping Taiwanese, the island’s representative office in Hong Kong is reportedly tasked with tracking developments and gathering intelligence for the Taiwanese government to respond promptly to any changes and make statements to condemn Beijing and the Hong Kong government.

Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen has been looking to make the most of the crisis crippling Hong Kong to advance her anti-reunification platform in the run-up to January’s polls.

Both President Tsai and her predecessor Ma Ying-jeou, who was born in Hong Kong, have called upon the city’s government to ditch hawkish tactics and start fresh dialogue with society, especially the young, to find common ground.

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