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Radio Free Asia

Taiwanese Divided on Further Government Support For Hong Kong Protests: Poll

2019-08-16 -- While the president of democratic Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen, has been a vocal supporter of anti-extradition protests in Hong Kong, it would appear that a sizable minority of the country's 23 million residents oppose further active support for the movement by their own government, a recent opinion poll has revealed.

The survey, carried out the Cross-Strait Policy Association found that only a slender majority -- 49 percent compared with 43.1 percent -- of respondents agreed with the statement "the government should support the Hong Kong anti-extradition campaign more actively."

The administration of President Tsai, who is seeking reelection in January 2020, has been vocal in its support of Hong Kong's anti-extradition protests, condemning police violence against unarmed demonstrators and calling on the city's government to pursue greater democracy.

Tsai has also pledged "humanitarian assistance" to Hong Kong protesters fleeing arrest.

Fan Shiping, a professor of political science at Taiwan National Normal University, said that the majority of those in favor of more active support for the Hong Kong protesters came from among supporters of Tsai's ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and other pan-green groups.

"Some 60 percent of pan-greens believe that the Chinese Communist Party has provoked Taiwan, but on the Hong Kong issue, in fact, only 46.4 percent of Pan-Greens believes that Taiwan should be more active in supporting Hong Kong," Fan said.

"I think the main reason is that there may be some pan-green and DPP supporters who think that Hong Kong is part of the People's Republic of China, so why should we care? These are the internal affairs of the People's Republic of China and has nothing to do with Taiwan."

Political asylum in Taiwan

Taiwan Society of International Law deputy secretary-general Lin Ting-hui said another reason for the reticence could be the fear that a large number of Hong Kong people will seek political asylum in Taiwan.

"The Taiwanese people are worried about possible threats to social stability, and thus have doubts about the government's support for the anti-extradition movement, and about how they are going to arrange for asylum for [large numbers of] Hong Kong people," Lin told RFA.

He said there are all kinds of questions around how long a window of application would be open for, which organizations would sponsor asylum-seekers, how they will find jobs, buy homes, attend school and other practical issues.

"Taiwan has already taken in a number of Hong Kong people, so there are questions about how this will all happen with regard to the anti-extradition movement," he said.

Jiann-Fa Yan, deputy executive of the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy, said Tsai had received a big boost in the opinion polls when the anti-extradition movement escalated in early June, owing to her vehement opposition to China's offer to rule the island under the "one country, two systems" framework currently operating in Hong Kong.

"This is all linked to the next year's presidential election and the Legislative Yuan elections, and it may give the green camp a certain boost," Yan said.

"For a certain period of time, the situation should be a very positive factor for Tsai Ing-wen."

Last month, Tsai pledged that the Taiwan authorities would offer assistance to any residents of Hong Kong who fear arrest or unfair prosecution over their involvement in a recent string of mass protests against extradition to mainland China.

Some protesters flee to Taiwan

She was speaking in response to reports from RFA and Hong Kong's Apple Daily newspaper that dozens of Hong Kong protesters have already fled to Taiwan in a bid to avoid arrest on public order or "rioting" charges linked to the largely peaceful protests that have rocked the city since June 9.

Taiwan has never formed part of the People's Republic of China nor come under the control of the Chinese Communist Party.

RFA reported at the time that more than 10 anti-extradition protesters who broke into Hong Kong's Legislative Council (LegCo) following a mass peaceful demonstration on July 1 have since fled to Taiwan, while Hong Kong's Apple Daily said more than 30 have arrived there in recent days.

The protesters, many of whom are students, could face jail terms of at least five years if they are convicted of "rioting" in a Hong Kong court, based on the jailing of several leaders of the 2014 Occupy Central pro-democracy movement, their lawyers said.

But they also face difficulties in applying for formal political asylum, as they are unable to prove that they were part of the storming of LegCo, because they were wearing masks to avoid detection at the time.

Some have been offered temporary accommodation by Taiwanese NGOs, but there is no indication that they will able to stay in the longer term.

Taiwan, a sovereign country under the 1911 Republic of China government that fled to the island after losing the civil war to Mao Zedong's communists in 1949, has no legal asylum process or refugee law, despite growing calls for a clearer framework from rights groups involved in helping fleeing dissidents.

If Hong Kong allows renditions to China on a case-by-case basis, the change would affect anyone who traveling to the city who is regarded as a dissident or political opponent by Beijing, including investors who may run afoul of powerful local officials in a business dispute, and find themselves accused of fraud or running an illegal business.

Reported by Hwang Chun-mei for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Chung Kuang-cheng for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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