Democracy activists fleeing Hong Kong present a dilemma for Taiwan

The government sympathises with their cause, but is wary of taking too many in

The Economist
Date: Jul 11th 2020

Lam wing-kee runs a tiny bookshop on the tenth floor of an unremarkable building in Taiwan’s capital, Taipei. He is also the country’s most famous exile from Hong Kong. His shop is a replica of his former business in Hong Kong, Causeway Bay Books, which until 2015 sold material the Chinese government considered subversive. That year Mr Lam was kidnapped by Chinese agents and held without charge for eight months. He fled to Taiwan early last year, fearing that an extradition bill under consideration by Hong Kong’s legislature might see him sent back to the mainland—legally this time.

Now Mr Lam sleeps in a bed in the shop. Above a pile of books criticising the Chinese Communist Party hangs a banner calling for Hong Kong’s liberation from China. But when asked if Taiwan will be a haven for democracy activists from Hong Kong, he hums and haws. He himself wants to stay in a Chinese-speaking country, since he sells Chinese books. Others, he says, may prefer to flee to Western countries, farther from the long arm of the Chinese authorities. The Taiwanese government has treated him well, he adds. “They want to help Hong Kong but it is natural for them to be cautious,” he says.

Like most of her compatriots, Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, is proud of her country’s democracy and sympathetic to Hong Kong’s activists. The day before China imposed a ferocious security law on Hong Kong last month, her government amended its covid-related border closure to make it easier for people from Hong Kong to enter. The day after the law took effect, it opened an office in the city to help locals visit or emigrate to Taiwan.

But Ms Tsai is indeed cautious: her government has not issued any sweeping offer of asylum. Instead, requests to resettle are considered case by case, and residency is often granted for mundane reasons, at least on paper. Mr Lam, for instance, is classified as an investor, since he set up a business in Taiwan.    [FULL  STORY]

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