A woman reacts after riot police fired tear gas to disperse protesters taking part in a pro-democracy rally against a proposed new security law in Hong Kong on Sunday. Photograph: AFP

Taiwan considers revoking Hong Kong’s special status on law fears

China’s planned national security law may prompt Taiwan to revoke the special status it extends to Hong Kong, president Tsai Ing-wen said, a move that could anger Beijing and make it harder for Hong Kongers to visit and invest.

China is proposing the new legislation for the Chinese-ruled city after months of anti-government protests, and the decision has already ignited renewed unrest in Hong Kong and prompted condemnation from Western capitals.

The decision being considered by Beijing’s National People’s Congress (NPC) would pave the way for a law outlawing acts of subversion, separatism, “acts of foreign interference” and terrorism against the central government, charges that have been used against political dissidents and opponents in mainland China. It would also allow Beijing to install its own security agencies in Hong Kong.

The demonstrators have won widespread sympathy in democratic Taiwan, and the support for the protesters by Ms Tsai and her administration has worsened already poor ties between Taipei and Beijing.

China has repeatedly denounced Taiwan’s government for supporting the protesters, and accused activists in both places of colluding to plot independence.

Writing on her Facebook page late on Sunday, Ms Tsai said the proposed legislation was a serious threat to Hong Kong’s freedoms and judicial independence and that Taiwan would provide the people of Hong Kong with “necessary assistance”.

Taiwan deals with Hong Kong and neighbouring Macau under rules that, for example, allow residents of the two Chinese cities to visit and invest in Taiwan much more easily than mainland Chinese.

Ms Tsai said if there were a “change in the situation” in Hong Kong, the act laying out those rules could be revoked.

“We hope the situation in Hong Kong does not get to this stage, and will pay close attention to developments, and take necessary corresponding measures in a timely way,” she added.

Beijing would inevitably see any move by Taiwan regarding Hong Kong as Taipei again siding with the protest movement, sparking further Chinese ire.

A senior official familiar with Taiwan’s security planning said Ms Tsai’s comment was a “clear message” to Beijing that Taipei would “reinterpret” its ties with Hong Kong if China pushes the security legislation through.

Hong Kong was Taiwan’s second-largest export destination in April after mainland China, official data shows.

The United States is also considering whether to maintain Hong Kong’s special status in US law, which has helped the city maintain its position as a global financial centre.

Taiwan has no law on refugees that could be applied to Hong Kong protesters who seek asylum on the island. Its laws do promise, though, to help Hong Kongers whose safety and liberty are threatened for political reasons.

The number of Hong Kong immigrants to Taiwan jumped 150 per cent to 2,383 in the first four months of 2020 from the same period last year, official data shows. – Reuters