Taiwan has become a safe haven in recent years for dissidents and anyone who fears being purged in Hong Kong.
When a major stakeholder of a Hong Kong bookstore known for selling salacious publications about Chinese leaders escaped detention in mainland China, he decided to seek shelter on the self-ruled island.
Last month, a former employee of the British consulate in Hong Kong, after being released by the public security bureau in Shenzhen following 15 days of detention for “soliciting prostitution,” also chose to flee to Taiwan.
But Simon Cheng soon felt what he thought was Beijing’s long arm while he was in Taipei, and told reporters he was constantly tailed during his three-month stay in the island’s capital.
Cheng, a Hongkonger who was detained in August after a business trip to the neighboring mainland city of Shenzhen, revealed over the past weekend that he had been followed by an “unknown person” throughout Taipei over the past months. He said he sought to stay away from the media and had been thinking about his next move following his release.
Another reason for choosing Taiwan was because he graduated from the National Taiwan University.
Cheng’s job as a commerce promotion officer with the British consulate required frequent trips to mainland China.
Taiwanese newspapers revealed that after Cheng contacted the local government in Taipei, authorities dispatched bodyguards and agents to protect him.
He broke his silence on his detention in China last month and spoke about how he was “tortured” as Chinese agents tried to prise out of him proof and information about the United Kingdom fanning and organizing Hong Kong’s ongoing protests.
Taipei police officials said their initial investigations found that the man following Cheng was not Taiwanese and did not appear to be associated with any local pro-China groups.
Taiwan’s foreign ministry also noted that London’s representative office contacted the ministry soon after Cheng’s arrival.
In his extensive interviews with the BBC and the Washington Post, which were published last month, Cheng said he had been coerced by Chinese agents into making a false confession about soliciting prostitution in Shenzhen to explain his detention.
“In truth, [Chinese agents] wanted to know what role the UK had in the Hong Kong protests … They asked what support, money and equipment [the British consulate in the city] were giving to the protesters,” he told the BBC.
He also added that Chinese police told him during his interrogation that many Hong Kong protesters who had been arrested were shipped across the border to China to be questioned and processed.
Following Cheng’s revelations, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab summoned Chinese Ambassador Liu Xiaoming over Cheng’s arrest and torture.
The British government offered Cheng a two-year working holiday visa, but Cheng was reportedly in talks to secure permanent residence or citizenship in the country, as he was looking for a job with the UK parliament or with a think tank.
He also plans to visit the United States and other Western countries to draw up support for Hong Kong and Taiwan’s freedoms and democracy.
The British consulate in Hong Kong declined to comment on Cheng’s remarks, adding that he was no longer a staffer and that the consulate had all along offered appropriate assistance to Cheng and his family during his detention.
It is understood that the consulate has stopped sending its employees to the mainland on business trips, a move also followed by the Canadian consulate.