Taiwan opens office to help Hong Kong asylum seekers

New office aims to provide assistance in work, education to people leaving Hong Kong because of safety fears.

    Chen Ming-tong, left, attends opening of the Taiwan-Hong Kong Services and Exchanges Office in Taipei [Ann Wang/Reuters]
    Chen Ming-tong, left, attends opening of the Taiwan-Hong Kong Services and Exchanges Office in Taipei [Ann Wang/Reuters]

    Taiwan has set up an office to help people fleeing Hong Kong after China imposed new national security laws on the city that was rocked last year by months of pro-democracy protests.

    The Taiwan-Hong Kong Services and Exchange Office opened in the centre of Taipei on Wednesday, with senior minister Chen Ming-tong calling the project "an important milestone for the government to further support democracy and freedom in Hong Kong".

    The move comes on the anniversary of Hong Kong's return to Chinese rule from Britain in 1997, with the promise of autonomy and freedoms under Beijing's "one country, two systems" formula.

    Taiwan, a self-governing island, shares with the Hong Kong protesters a deep antipathy for Beijing, which claims the island as its own and has not ruled out the use of force to achieve its objective. 

    In May, President Tsai Ing-wen became the first government leader anywhere to pledge measures to help Hong Kong people who leave because of what they see as tightening Chinese controls.

    Since pro-democracy protests began in Hong Kong last year, about 200 people have already fled to Taiwan, according to rights groups. Taiwanese officials are now gearing up for more asylum seekers with China's enactment on Tuesday of a new security law that targets crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison.

    Taiwan condemns new Hong Kong security legislation (2:38)

    Chen, head of Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council, which sets policy towards China, said the new office showcased the island's determination to aid Hong Kong people.

    'Many calls'

    He warned that Beijing aims to target people in other countries with the law, which covers permanent and non-permanent residents of Hong Kong.

    "This not only targets residents in Hong Kong. It's also an order issued by the Celestial Empire to people all over the world," he added, referring to the Chinese government.

    The law created an "opportunity" to win talent and capital from Hong Kong, Chen said, although authorities would "strictly scrutinise" whether Chinese money was involved.

    "We also welcome multinational companies to move their headquarters here," he said, adding that Taiwan was reviewing its rules.

    Chen declined to say how many people are expected, or the number of applications received. His deputy, Chiu Chui-cheng, said the new office would have about 24 staff with 20 enquiry hotlines, and officials have already received "many calls".

    Those who come to Taiwan must do so legally, Chiu added.

    Beijing denies stifling Hong Kong's freedoms and has condemned Taiwan's plans to help people there.

    On Tuesday, China's Taiwan Affairs Office said the new law would "cut off the black hand" of the island's "meddling" in Hong Kong.

    Zhu Fenglian, spokeswoman for the office, also warned Taiwan "that attempts to undermine China's national sovereignty, security, development interests, and the prosperity and stability of [Hong Kong] will end in vain and suffer the consequences".

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies