TAIPEI, TAIWAN (AP) – For Lam Wing-kee, a Hong Kong bookstore owner who was detained by police in China for five months for selling sensitive books about the Communist Party, coming to Taiwan was a sensible step.
An island just 640 kilometers (400 miles) from Hong Kong, Taiwan is close not only geographically but also linguistically and culturally. It offered the freedoms that many Hong Kong residents were accustomed to and saw disappearing in their hometown.
Lam’s move to Taiwan in 2019, where he reopened his bookstore in Taipei, the capital, heralded a wave of immigration from Hong Kong, as the former British colony was under the strict control of China’s central government Party.
“It’s not that Hong Kong does not have democracy, it does not even have freedom,” Lam said in a recent interview. “When the British ruled Hong Kong, they did not give us real democracy or the power to vote, but the British gave Hong Kong too much room to be free.”
The leaders of Hong Kong and China will celebrate the 25th anniversary of his return to China next week. At that time, some were willing to give China a chance. China had promised to rule the city under the “one country, two systems” framework for 50 years. This meant that Hong Kong would retain its own legal and political system and freedom of speech that does not exist in mainland China.
But in the decades that followed, a growing tension between the liberal values of the Western-style city and the authoritarian political system of mainland China culminated in explosive pro-democracy demonstrations in 2019. China then enacted a national security law that left activists and others to live in fear of being arrested because he spoke.
Hong Kong still looked the same. The malls were open, the skyscrapers were shining. But well-known artist Kacey Wong, who moved to Taiwan last year, said he was constantly worried about the arrest of himself or his friends, some of whom are now in prison.
“Abroad it is still beautiful, the sunset overlooking the harbor. “But it is an illusion that makes you think you are still free,” he said. “In reality you are not, the government is watching you and secretly following you.”
Although Wong feels safe in Taiwan, life as an exile is not easy. Despite his similarities to Hong Kong, Wong found his new home an alien place. It does not speak Taiwanese, a widely spoken Fujianese dialect. And the loose island is in stark contrast to the fast-paced economic capital that was Hong Kong.
The first six months were difficult, Wong said, noting that traveling as a tourist in Taiwan is completely different from living on the island in self-exile.
“I have not established a relationship with the place, with the streets, with the people, with the language, with the shop downstairs,” he said.
Others, less prominent exiles than Wong or Lam, also had to navigate a system that did not have laws or mechanisms in place for refugees and asylum seekers and was not always hospitable. This issue is further complicated by Taiwan’s growing skepticism about the security risks posed by China, which claims the island as its breakaway province, and Beijing’s growing influence in Hong Kong.
For example, some people, such as public school teachers and doctors, have been denied permanent residence in Taiwan because they worked for the Hong Kong government, said Sky Fung, general secretary of the Hong Kong Outlanders, a group that supports Hong Kong in Taiwan. . Others struggle with stricter requirements and slow processing of investment visas.
About a year ago, some chose to leave Taiwan, citing a clearer migration route to the UK and Canada, despite the widest gap in language and culture.
Wong said Taiwan missed a golden opportunity to retain talented people from Hong Kong. “The policies and actions and what the … government is doing are not precautionary enough and it has caused uncertainty to these people, so they are leaving,” he said.
The island’s Continental Council defended its record, saying it found that some Hong Kong immigrants had hired immigration companies that followed illegal methods, such as not investing and hiring locals promised on paper.
“We in Taiwan also have national security needs,” Chiu Chui-cheng, a deputy minister in the Continental Affairs Council, said in a televised address last week. “Of course we want to help Hong Kong, we have always supported Hong Kong in its support for freedom, democracy and the rule of law.”
Some 11,000 Hong Kong residents received residence permits in Taiwan last year, according to Taiwan’s National Immigration Service, and 1,600 were granted permanent residency. The United Kingdom granted 97,000 applications to holders of British national passports in Hong Kong last year in response to China’s repression.
As imperfect as it is, Taiwan gives activists the opportunity to continue their work, even if the immediate actions of the past were no longer possible.
Lam was one of five Hong Kong booksellers whose seizure by Chinese security agents in 2016 sparked worldwide concern.
He frequently attends anti-China protests, most recently attending a June 4 memorial in Taipei to mark the anniversary of a bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989. Similar protests in Hong Kong and Hong Kong Macau, until recently the only places in China where the Tiananmen massacre was no longer allowed to be celebrated.
“As Hong Kong, I have not really stopped resisting. I always kept doing what I had to do in Taiwan and participated in my events. “I have not given up the fight,” Lam said.