【Proposition】 Don’t Let President Tsai’s Talk of Rescuing the People of Hong Kong Become an Empty Promise

The following article was published on the Apple Daily on 2020/05/25

Written by Shih Yi-hsiang / Secretary General of the Taiwan Association for Human Rights

The Chinese People’s Congress shocked the world on June 22nd with a draft of the “Decision on Establishing and Improving the Legal System and Enforcement Mechanism for the Safeguard of National Security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region”. The draft spoke of enacting measures against any activities that may subvert the regime and required the Hong Kong government to finish Article 23 to maintain China’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and unity across the two governments. Consequently, China is no longer putting up the act of Hong Kong’s “one country, two system” compromise. Under China’s totalitarian rule, its previous suppression of Chinese dissidents, the June 4th Tiananmen Square incident, human rights lawyers, Falun Gong, Tibetans, Xinjiang Uyghurs, and Taiwanese Li Ming-che will now be wielded onto Hong Kong.

Once the draft is approved on the 28th, the legislation will bypass the Hong Kong Legislative Council and the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress will be directly authorized to formulate the Hong Kong version of the National Security Law. The law will be finalized at the end of June at the earliest and implemented before September. On the eve of the anti-extradition bill, five appeals failed with more than 7,000 Hong Kong people arrested and thousands of others facing judicial prosecution. The new national security measure in Hong Kong will only exacerbate the pre-existing unrest as the world watches it unfold. With nowhere else to turn for the people of Hong Kong, on the 24th, large-scale protests with tens of thousands of people occurred in the streets. The police that equated such protests with violence launched tear gas and blasted water cannons to the protests, which resulted in the arrest of at least 180 people in these peaceful demonstrations. 

Article 18 of  Laws and Regulations Regarding Hong Kong & Macao Affairs

The situation in Hong Kong has consequently affected global political and economic ties. As the US government warned the Beijing authorities that once the Hong Kong version of the National Security Law is passed, there will be a strong response of sanctions. With the status of Hong Kong as Asia’s financial center under threat, the British media has reported that London authorities will consider preparing for accepting Hong Kong refugees. Similarly, President Tsai Ing-wen also expressed concern about the situation in Hong Kong on Facebook on the evening of the 24th. She mentioned that at the intergovernmental level, according to Article 60 of the " Laws and Regulations Regarding Hong Kong & Macao Affairs", "the situation in Hong Kong may cease to apply once the situation changes either partially or entirely." As for the rescue work of Hong Kong people’s protesters, President Tsai also reaffirmed the framework of the Hong Kong and Macau Regulations that "government departments uphold humanitarian considerations and continue to provide various possible humanitarian relief. When facing changes in the situation...we will also actively improve any related rescue work on the basis of the existing foundations, and provide the necessary assistance to the people of Hong Kong." President Tsai’s first affirmation towards humanitarian efforts for the Hong Kong protesters has been met with appraise, but we must also question what exactly constitutes "improving related rescue work"? For a long time, the Tsai government was unable to address the question or has remained unclear, or even unwilling to address these questions.

First, we interpret President Tsai’s “existing foundation” to refer to Article 18 of the Hong Kong and Macau Regulations. According to the article, “Hong Kong or Macau residents whose security and freedom are subject to harm due to emergency political factors must be provided necessary assistance.” Since last year’s June Anti-extradition bill movement, there have indeed been about 200 Hong Kong protesters seeking refuge in Taiwan. At least one-tenth of them have been able to stay in the joint review committee held by the Mainland Affairs Council for life, schooling, and employment in Taiwan. However, even within Article 18 itself is too vague as to what exactly is considered "necessary assistance". Who will provide such assistance? The text of the article is not explicitly stated, and the Mainland Affairs Council has not always had clear implementation measures or operational regulations. Therefore, when the Mainland Affairs Council responded to the report on the political asylum of Hong Kong and Macau by the New Power Party, it could only evade the question by arguing the vague terms for "flexible purposes”.

As the situation in Hong Kong continues to escalate and once the epidemic situation eases with border clearance removed, there will inevitably be a large number of Hong Kong people who may seek asylum in Taiwan through legal or illegal channels. Once this occurs, the Tsai government can no longer stand only with "flexible" terms. We believe that since the Tsai government has demonstrated to the world that Taiwan is capable of combatting against the menacing epidemic, similarly, in the face of President Tsai’s self-proclaimed desire for freedom and democracy for Hong Kong, the Taiwanese government should also advance to establish a firmer " active improvement of related rescue work" for Hong Kong people.

First, we believe that the regardless of the level of law or administrative order, the Tsai administration should establish a clear asylum mechanism for Hong Kong people based on various international human rights conventions and refugee status conventions as soon as possible. The Taiwan Association for Human Rights believes that an even more active approach is to pass a refugee law that is applicable to all with a further specification for regulations on Hong Kong and Macau built on.

Assisting the People of Hong Kong to Live in Taiwan

Additionally, whether it was the Hong Kong people who have sought refuge because of the anti-extradition movement or other large numbers of asylum-seekers in the near future, any sufficient asylum seeking accommodations will require an adequate government mechanism for any legal authorization. The resources and budget necessary to assist such refugees requires a clear coordination and division of labor across agencies and ministries, varying from the legal assistance of Hong Kong people to the maintenance of basic living in Taiwan (schooling, employment, medical care, mental health, social insurance, or social work support...etc.). The basic conditions for policy development for such a plan must be deployed without delay and must be deployed ahead of schedule. Otherwise, what President Tsai said "more active improvement and improvement of related rescue work" will only be an empty promise.

Origin of the article’s cover photo: Chang-long