Taiwan on Wednesday officially cut the ribbon on a new office that will help Hong Kongers flee to the self-governed island following the passage of the city’s widely criticized national security law, flying in the face of characteristically dire warnings from Beijing.
The Taiwan-Hong Kong Office for Exchanges opened on the politically charged anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to China by the British—incidentally the same day that Hong Kong’s Beijing-drafted national security law went into effect, Reuters reports.
The opening came one day after Zhu Fenglian, a spokesperson for China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, lashed out at Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party, claiming that the new national security law will “surely cut off the ‘black hands’ of the DPP to mess up Hong Kong.”
Despite more than 50 years of self-rule, China still regards Taiwan as a breakaway province, with Zhu on Tuesday accusing Taiwanese authorities of “sinister intentions of plotting to meddle in Hong Kong affairs, destabilize Hong Kong and seek ‘Taiwan independence,’” the state-run China Daily reported.
“Any attempt by any person or force to undermine China’s sovereignty, security, and development interests and undermine Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability is futile and will inevitably backfire,” Zhu added.
The overheated rhetoric seems to have little impact on Taipei’s hospitality, though.
Well before the passage of the controversial new security law—which criminalizes in problematically broad terms acts of secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign forces—Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen had announced that Taiwan would offer humanitarian assistance for Hong Kongers fleeing the city, the earliest government leader to do so.
The new Taiwan-Hong Kong office is poised to make good on that offer, offering “one-stop services to Hong Kongers who wish to study, do business, make investments, or seek asylum in Taiwan,” according to the official CNA press agency. In a previous missive, Taiwan’s Central Epidemic Command Center explicitly mentioned that residents of Hong Kong and Macau can apply for entry to Taiwan based on “humanitarian considerations” or the “need for emergency assistance.”
The office is equipped with 20 phone lines and offers services in Cantonese, with the Taipei Times reporting that the lines were mostly busy on the first day.
After Hong Kong’s national security law was passed on Tuesday, President Tsai tweeted that the law, seen by critics as a tool for stifling dissent, proved the infeasibility of the “one country, two systems” framework under which Hong Kong enjoyed liberties unheard-of on the mainland. An identical arrangement has long been part of China’s reunification pitch for Taiwan, which has rejected the overtures.
According to Chen Ming-tong, the head of Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, the passage of the law and the opening of the new Taiwan-Hong Kong office represents an “opportunity” for the island to attract human and financial resources away from Hong Kong.
Meanwhile, in Hong Kong, the impact of the new law is already being felt.
Within a day of its passage, pro-democracy figures had resigned from politics, dissidents had fled the territory, and protesters were being arrested over alleged offenses as minor as being in possession of flags bearing offending slogans.
According to South China Morning Post, protests against the national security law on Wednesday saw some 370 people arrested—at least 10 under the new national security law.
The law also purports to criminalize offenses that take place outside of Hong Kong, meaning foreigners could also be held liable for criticising the communist regime without ever setting foot in the country, a provision critics say was designed to foment a “white terror” among Beijing’s critics.