More than a year and a half after Communist China imposed its National Security Law limiting freedoms in the former British colony of Hong Kong, thousands of the city’s residents have emigrated to democratic countries.
A recent report by Taiwan’s Liberty Times counts 11,173 Hongkongers as having taken up legal residence in Taiwan last year. The number is a slight increase from 2020, in which 10,813 of the city’s citizens were granted the same.
Likewise, 1,685 Hongkongers were granted permanent residence in Taiwan in 2021, or somewhat more than the previous year’s 1,576.
Officials in Taiwan said that since the implementation of the NSL in July 2020, the open, pluralistic, free and democratic Hong Kong has already been lost. Beijing tore up the “one country, two systems” promise which pledged that Hong Kong would keep its unique freedoms and laws for at least 50 years.
Since 2021, Hong Kong has arrested media executives and democrats for ” speech crimes” and is contemplating purging dissidents on campus. The Taiwan authorities are reviewing and looking to improve the immigration regulations for people from Hong Kong and Macau to stay and settle in Taiwan.
Emigrating to Taiwan
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Taiwan is officially known as the Republic of China. Contrasting with the communist People’s Republic on the Chinese mainland, Taiwanese enjoy strong democratic institutions and a GDP per capita that is several times higher than across the Strait.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) claims Taiwan as a part of its territory, despite failing to conquer the island in the 70 years after it drove the ROC out of mainland China.
The Central News Agency focused on the story of Jo, a 25-year old, who used to travel to Taiwan alone and hoped to live abroad. She had never imagined that her dream of living abroad in Taiwan would come true because of political factors and with the help of her friends.
Millions of Hongkongers took part in the mass protests for democratic reform in 2019 and 2020 — actions that are now punishable under the NSL with up to life in prison.
On Feb. 28, 2021, 55 pro-democracy activists were arrested on suspicion of violating the National Security Law in Hong Kong. It intensified Jo’s fears, “Deep down, I didn’t want to leave. I didn’t know how to tell my parents because they would cry once they knew. I kept telling myself that I could probably leave after this weekend or a few more days, but I was just stalling my departure”.
Jo had an emotional breakdown at one point, “It was so hard and frustrating that [at one point] I told my parents, ‘I’ll just stay even if I do jail time.’”
However, she did not go to jail, and, in April 2021, left for Taiwan alone.
In the past, she felt that celebrating Lunar New Year was old-fashioned.
“I had to go to the homes of unfamiliar relatives to pay respects, say some polite words, and try very hard to find topics to chat with relatives.”
Like ‘surviving to the end’
Now without her parents around, Jo misses the old days.
“Many things are beyond my “Many things are beyond my control. Even if there are many plans, there is no use. Just like the huge changes in my life, coming to Taiwan is like surviving to the end.”
Jiawen (pseudonym), a nurse by trade, has a stepfather who is 96 years old. Despite his being seriously ill, he kept urging her to emigrate before it was too late — even if that would mean leaving him behind in Hong Kong — because “he was born and raised on the mainland, and experienced what [communist] rule was like.”
In March 2021, Jiawen immigrated to Taiwan and spent some holidays with other Hongkongers in Taiwan.
Choking up, said, “I’m always happy when I come out to eat, but when the night is over, it’s hard not to be sad. Who wants to leave their family and friends behind?”
For Jiawen, Taiwan is a place where she no longer needs to live in fear, where she doesn’t have to worry about being targeted for wearing black clothes on the street, or being arrested for accidentally saying the wrong thing, or being stopped and searched when she goes to sensitive places on sensitive days. Although Taiwan has its shortcomings, the most important thing is to be able to breathe the air of freedom.