As Hong Kong residents demonstrated against the move by China’s National People’s Congress (NPC, 全國人民代表大會) to draft a national security law for the semi-autonomous territory, Taiwan’s government has voiced opposition to the new legislation. President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) wrote on Twitter on May 28: “All political parties in Taiwan strongly condemn China’s decision to bypass Hong Kong’s legal process [and] push for the passage of today’s national security law resolution. Taiwan’s government [and] people are united in our support for Hong Kong [and] universal democratic values.” Indeed, in a rare show of political unity, lawmakers from Taiwan’s major political parties issued a joint statement on May 29 that strongly condemned the national security law in Hong Kong, which they feared would result in “a rapid deterioration of the situation in Hong Kong and adversely affect its people’s rights and freedoms.” Beijing’s national security law for Hong Kong that could further strip the territory of its freedoms has dealt a severe blow to Beijing’s promise of a “one country, two systems” model for Hong Kong and has intensified Taiwanese distrust of Beijing.
National Security Law for Hong Kong
China’s National People’s Congress voted on May 28 to authorize the Standing Committee (常務委員會) of the NPC to draw up a national security law for Hong Kong that would target secession, sedition, terrorism, and foreign interference in the semi-autonomous territory. The proposed law, which was last put forward in 2003 before being derailed by major protests, would allow Beijing to set up national security organs in Hong Kong in the name of safeguarding national security. After its enactment, the Beijing-imposed national security law will be written into Annex III of the Basic Law (基本法) governing Hong Kong, bypassing the city’s Legislative Council (香港特別行政區立法會) .
Beijing’s announcement of the national security law also came amid other legal moves to rein in the Hong Kong people’s specific freedoms. Beijing pushed to enact a local law based on the National Anthem Bill (國歌條例草案), which criminalizes insulting or disrespecting China’s national anthem, “March of the Volunteers” (義勇軍進行曲). The National Anthem Bill, which has been implemented in China since 2017, was passed by Hong Kong lawmakers on June 4, on the somber 31st anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre.
Taipei Supports Hong Kong Protesters
In light of the new national security law, President Tsai has asked the Executive Yuan to devise a plan to offer humanitarian assistance to Hong Kong residents who would like to resettle in Taiwan due to political factors. Although Taiwan does not have a political asylum law, Tsai argued that the Act Governing Relations with Hong Kong and Macau (香港澳門關係條例) could be used to handle the current crisis. Article 18 of the act states that “necessary assistance shall be provided to Hong Kong or Macau residents whose safety and liberty are immediately threatened for political reasons.” According to Chen Ming-tong (陳明通), minister of the Mainland Affairs Council (大陸委員會), the semi-official Taiwan-Hong Kong Economic and Cultural Cooperation Council (THEC, 臺港經濟文化合作策進會) would assist Hong Kong immigrants in obtaining residency and protection in Taiwan. Chen also stressed that Hong Kong “shelter seekers” (尋求庇護者)—avoiding the term asylum seekers—must undergo stringent screening amid concerns that Chinese spies could infiltrate Hong Kong emigration to the island. In the past year, nearly 5,000 Hong Kong residents have resettled in Taiwan, and more than 2,300 Hong Kong citizens were granted Taiwanese residency in the first four months of 2020.
Despite assurances from Taiwan’s government, 60 percent of Taiwanese respondents in a poll released on May 31 support amending Taiwan’s laws to better assist Hong Kong people seeking refuge in Taiwan. A key concern is that Taiwan’s laws on investment immigration may be a barrier to many Hong Kong asylum seekers. Under current investment immigration regulations, the minimum amount needed for investment immigration is around USD $200,000. While past cases have shown that most Hong Kong residents applying for immigration to Taiwan have just met the minimum requirement, members of Hong Kong’s middle class would likely face significant financial hurdles if they cannot pass Taipei’s strict screening process for shelter seekers and opt for investment immigration.
The latest developments in Hong Kong have led to debates in Taiwan and elsewhere around the world that China’s “one country, two systems” (一國兩制) framework for governing Hong Kong is effectively dead. In a recent poll conducted by the Asia-Pacific Elite Interchange Association (中華亞太菁英交流協會), more than half of Taiwanese respondents believed that Hong Kong’s “one country, two systems” principle will be shattered with the enactment of the national security law. Meanwhile, Taiwanese public support for Hong Kong’s resistance against China is strong particularly among the younger generation. A survey found that 85 percent of Taiwanese between the ages of 18 and 34 supported last year’s Hong Kong protests against the now shelved extradition bill (反送中). According to some recent debates, Beijing’s latest moves vis-a-vis Hong Kong indicate that “one country, one system” (一國一制) is China’s intended governance model for Hong Kong.
Revoking Hong Kong’s Special Trade Status
In anticipation of the NPC’s decision on the national security law, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo submitted a report to Congress on May 27 stating that Hong Kong was no longer sufficiently autonomous from Chinese rule for it to continue enjoying its preferential trade and financial status under US law. President Donald Trump later announced on May 29 that the United States would revoke Hong Kong’s special status “as a special customs and travel territory from the rest of China,” threatening potential sanctions against individuals responsible for “smothering” Hong Kong’s freedom.
President Tsai is also considering revoking Hong Kong’s special trade status with Taiwan. Tsai said on May 24 that if the situation in Hong Kong continues to deteriorate and endangers Taiwan’s national security, she may invoke Article 60 of the Act Governing Relations with Hong Kong and Macao, which would suspend all or part of the regulations under the act. Taiwan’s government currently offers preferential treatment to Hong Kong and Macau in the areas of trade and travel. Stripping Hong Kong of its special status, however, would essentially make the territory no different than China. As a result, critics of invoking Article 60 have accused the Tsai Administration of “abandoning Hong Kong” (放棄香港).
Ending Hong Kong’s special trade status could negatively impact not only Hong Kong, but also US and Taiwanese companies that utilize Hong Kong as a transshipment hub in Asia. Hong Kong’s economy, which suffered from last year’s anti-extradition protests and the coronavirus outbreak earlier this year, is expected to worsen if trade privileges are suspended. The territory’s loss of its special status would also impact the cross-Strait trade that transits through Hong Kong ports. Hong Kong currently hosts around 13 percent of Taiwan’s exports, most of which are re-exports. Taiwan’s electronics exports, in particular its semiconductor products, are mostly transshipped through Hong Kong. These exports would likely be affected if Hong Kong’s status changes. Since the 1990s, Hong Kong’s trade and financial independence from China helped to preserve its autonomy and foster a distinct local identity; withdrawing US and Taiwanese trade privileges for the territory may inadvertently speed up its loss of autonomy.
In the face of Beijing’s new legal restrictions on Hong Kong, the city is in need of enormous political and moral support. Taipei is stepping up to the plate amid perceptions of waning US leadership in the Indo-Pacific region. By sheltering Hong Kong residents, Taipei is enhancing its moral leadership on the issue. When Taipei comes under political or military siege by Beijing, the hope is that international community will also come to Taiwan’s defense. As Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu (吳釗燮) stated in a May 27 interview on Fox News, while Taiwan’s government is trying to protect the freedoms and democratic aspirations of Hong Kong citizens, it is also concerned about a possible Chinese military invasion of the island. Taipei thus needs the support of the United States and like-minded friends to preserve its sovereignty. At bottom, supporting Hong Kong is also about protecting Taiwan (撐香港就是撐台灣).
The demise of freedom in Hong Kong would further entrench Taiwan’s status as the only beacon of democracy and human rights in the Chinese-speaking world. This would, in turn, shift Beijing’s attention towards targeting Taiwan’s democracy. As the “one country, two systems” arrangement fizzles in Hong Kong, Taiwanese politics are likely to become more alienated from Beijing. China’s multifaceted pressure campaigns against Taiwan are likely to fail to change the anti-China attitudes of Taiwanese public opinion. If the national security law was intended to use Hong Kong to scare Taiwan (殺港儆台), then it certainly has created the effect of making the Taiwanese public more resistant to Beijing’s promises for the island.
The main point: Beijing’s decision to enact a national security law for Hong Kong has further stirred Taiwanese resentment against China. Ending Hong Kong’s preferential trade status in both the United States and Taiwan may end up hurting the people of Hong Kong and accelerate the territory’s loss of autonomy.