Hong Kongers in Taiwan firmly support the ruling party after watching China erode freedoms at home


HONG KONG (AP) — As Taiwan’s presidential election approaches, many immigrants from Hong Kong, witnesses to the alarming erosion of civil liberties at home, are supporting the ruling Democratic Progressive Party.

Beijing’s crackdown on dissent in the financial hub has cemented their preference for a party committed to preserving Taiwan’s de facto independence and democratic values ahead of the Jan. 13 vote.

While Taiwanese immigration policies have been less welcoming than some from Hong Kong anticipated, most remain steadfast in their support for the DPP, largely due to the party’s firm stance on autonomy from Beijing, according to interviews with 10 Hong Kongers, over half of whom moved to Taiwan after the 2019 anti-government protests.

Hong Tsun-ming, a protester who feared arrest and moved to Taiwan in 2019, told The Associated Press he looks forward to having a taste of deciding its fate. The election is a cherished voting opportunity he never had in Hong Kong, where the chief executive is picked by a predominantly pro-Beijing committee. He plans to support the DPP.

Hong has thrown himself into local politics, committed to sharing lessons from Hong Kong.

“It’s to remind Taiwan not to follow the old path of Hong Kong,” said Hong, member of the pro-independence Taiwan Statebuilding Party, which did not field candidates in the presidential race.

Following Beijing’s imposition of a national security law on Hong Kong in 2020, Taiwan has stood out as a haven for free speech and liberties in the Chinese-speaking world. Over the last three years, tens of thousands of Hong Kongers have migrated to the self-ruled island, many dismayed by the rapid erosion of freedoms that had been promised to remain intact for 50 years in the former British colony after returning to Chinese rule in 1997.

As these immigrants establish new lives in Taiwan, some confront a reality tinged with frustration. Taiwan’s concerns over security risks posed by China, which views the island as a renegade province, have complicated application procedures. That has resulted in residency denials for some, particularly those who worked in government-funded entities or companies with strong ties to Chinese businesses. The opacity and protracted process of securing permanent residency have also drawn criticism.

From January 2020 to November 2023, over 37,100 Hong Kongers secured temporary residency, Taiwan’s National Immigration Agency reported. Just 5,700 others obtained permanent residency.

Alvin Tam, a first-time voter in the presidential election, was “a bit” disappointed with the DPP-led government after discovering the obstacles his fellow Hong Kongers face in Taiwan. But Tam, a forest therapist who settled in 2018, acknowledged the political factors involved.

He said national security and economic policy direction are his top considerations in voting for a president, and that led him to support the DPP’s ticket of Vice President William Lai and his running mate Bi-khim Hsiao, the former Taiwanese representative to the United States.

“Given our deep-seated resentment stemming from the troubles back home, I can’t see myself supporting any political party that is close with China,” he said.

Taiwan, with a population of 23 million, has never been governed by the People’s Republic of China. But the mainland’s ruling Communist Party insists on unification with Taiwan, by force if necessary.

China has warned that “’Taiwan independence’ means war.” Still, many Taiwan residents are undisturbed by that threat.

The DPP, which favors maintaining de facto independence, has led opponents in most polls. Its primary competitor, the Nationalist Party — also known as the Kuomintang or KMT — concurs with Beijing that both sides belong to a single Chinese nation. Another opponent, the smaller Taiwan People’s Party, has advocated resuming dialogue with China.

New immigrant Catherine Lui is unfazed by China’s bellicose talk. Lui moved to Taiwan through an investment immigration scheme in 2022, seeking greater freedoms. She was impressed by President Tsai Ing-wen’s support for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement in 2019 and found resonance with the DPP’s commitment to democracy and freedom.

Four years ago, Tsai leveraged the Hong Kong protests as an argument against the “one country, two systems” framework that China uses to rule Hong Kong and has suggested for Taiwan. The turmoil in Hong Kong, 720 kilometers (450 miles) away, fortified Tsai’s campaign and played a significant role in her re-election.

Although Lui is not yet eligible to vote, she plans to support Lai by attending his campaign rally in Taipei and has been exploring the island’s vibrant political culture.

“If someone doesn’t like Tsai Ing-wen, people are free to use very harsh words,” she said. “That’s impressive.”

Bennis So, professor in the department of public administration at Taiwan’s National Chengchi University, said even though the DPP has its imperfections, many new Hong Kong immigrants tend to favor the ruling party, driven by concerns that the main opposition party’s immigration policies might be less favorable to them if it comes to power.

But the influence of Hong Kongers on the election outcome is likely to be limited as they make up a small percentage of the electorate, So said. Taiwan’s total electorate is an estimated 19.5 million. Official data indicate that from 2015 to 2022, 10,440 immigrants from Hong Kong and the neighboring casino hub of Macao have secured voting rights.

Some from Hong Kong are already actively engaged in Taiwan’s political landscape.

At 72, Chui Pak-tai, a former Hong Kong pro-democracy district councilor who secured Taiwan residency 11 years ago, is running for legislative office. Although he faces long odds, his campaign draws attention to the immigration challenges of the Hong Kong diaspora.

Chui was guarded about his choice for the presidential election. He spoke ardently, however, about the economic, political, and international relations expertise that Hong Kong immigrants can offer Taiwan. He also highlighted the shared need for willpower among Hong Kongers and Taiwanese in the face of Beijing’s pressure.

“Hong Kongers and Taiwanese have common needs,” he said. “Even if it’s just on a spiritual level.”


Lai reported from Taipei, Taiwan.


Find more of AP’s Asia-Pacific coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/asia-pacific

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