Taiwan has just unveiled policies to aid Hongkongers wishing to move to the self-ruled island as a rash of less-than-heartening developments cast a pall over the territory.
The island is also wooing talent and multinational corporations from Hong Kong as some of them consider contingency plans to set up elsewhere, either due to the city’s lingering social unrest or Beijing’s looming national security law.
Taiwan will launch a Hong Kong Humanitarian Aid project next month and set up a Taiwan-Hong Kong Interaction Office, Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council said on Thursday. Work to shelter Hongkongers and lure companies will start before Beijing officially imposes the law on the city.
The new office will be a special agency to help Hongkongers and businesses with study, investment and entrepreneurial plans to set up shop on the island.
Other than helping dissidents from Hong Kong by inducing potential asylum seekers, the office will offer one-stop services from consultation to registration and site selection for businesses that wish to relocate, according to Mainland Affairs Council chief Chen Ming-tong.
Chen added that those migrating from Hong Kong for non-political reasons and planning to run their businesses on the island would be favorably considered when his council vets cases and grants entry and work permits to pave the way for residency and citizenship.
Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen told the MAC last month to devise a comprehensive plan to help Hongkongers, in particular on issues from residency rights, settlement and employment to setting up businesses.
The island sees an opportunity to fire up its own ailing economy with new investments and talent inflows amid a renewed exodus by Hong Kong youngsters and entrepreneurs who say they are disillusioned with their city’s future and sustainability as a financial and business hub due to its diminishing autonomy and Beijing’s subjugation.
It is believed that some tech startups and young entrepreneurs may be lured to the island due to cheaper rents and low capital and other entry requirements. It is thought also that the island can partially reverse its brain drain over the years when its own youngsters flocked to mainland China and Hong Kong to pursue better career opportunities.
The shifting focus of some key companies is proof of the emerging trend.
Google returned a sizable plot back to the Hong Kong government after it scrapped a plan to build a new data center in Hong Kong to power its business across Asia. Instead, it chose Taiwan for the project.
The search engine giant cited high operating costs as the reason for the change yet some regarded it as a vote of confidence in Taiwan as Hong Kong’s prospects become less certain.
The data center, arguably the largest in Asia, has been up and running in the central Taiwanese city of Changhua since 2013 and the tech giant plans another center in Tainan to crunch and store more data.
This week, it has also been reported that the US Federal Communications Commission may move to scupper the construction of a high-capacity, cross-Pacific ultrafast fibre-optic cable link between Hong Kong and Los Angeles on grounds of national security.
Taiwan, which is also included in the Pacific Light Cable Network project as a secondary landing point, is lobbying for the upgrade of its status in the project to replace Hong Kong as a key node in the new submarine cable network that will be the most advanced of its kind.
The South China Morning Post reported that the Committee for the Assessment of Foreign Participation in the US Telecommunications Services Sector on Wednesday demanded that the FCC veto the 12,800-kilometer project, since the proposed Hong Kong landing station “would expose US communications traffic to collection” by China.
However, it supported other routes of the project to connect the US, Taiwan and the Philippines, which are separately owned and controlled by subsidiaries of Google and Facebook.
Taiwanese papers also reported on Friday that the island’s telecoms, information and technology bureau had started preliminary discussions with Google and Facebook to add more landing stations along the island’s Pacific-facing coast for the network, even though the original route to Hong Kong was meant to bypasses high seismic areas near Taiwan and Japan to avoid service interruptions.
Taiwanese lawmakers are also prodding the government to formulate more policies to entice Hong Kong’s financial firms to the island.
Reports say Taiwan’s representative office in Hong Kong has started talks with a number of financial and tech firms that use the city as their Asia-Pacific headquarters.
Yet when asked about Taiwan’s new drive to poach businesses from Hong Kong, a spokesperson with the city’s Commerce and Economic Development Bureau said other governments in the region had long used Hong Kong to promote business and attract investments.
Hong Kong Financial Secretary Paul Chan said the city would not lose its financial hub status despite uncertainty over the national security law but he agreed that Taiwan’s advantage in information technology would be attractive to foreign tech firms and that Hong Kong would face stiff competition when attracting investments or retaining businesses.
Observers say Hong Kong may continue to lose tech firms to Taiwan amid the prevailing geopolitical headwind, especially after Washington declared it would start the process to strip the city of preferential trade and export treatment.
But they say also that banks and financial firms are unlikely to flock to the island due to its lack of financial infrastructure and the inconvertibility of the Taiwanese dollar.
Taiwan’s government said it would publish annual reports on the number of Hongkongers and companies from the city that moved to the island.