Singapore Markets close in 6 hrs 29 mins

Taiwan pledges help for Hong Kong protesters seeking sanctuary

Amber WANG
Over 30 Hong Kong protesters who fear prosecution for their involvement in the ransacking of the finance hub's legislature have arrived in Taiwan to seek shelter, local media said

Taiwan's government said Friday it would provide assistance to Hong Kongers seeking sanctuary after local media reported dozens of activists involved in an unprecedented storming of the city's parliament had fled to the island.

The pledge risks infuriating Beijing but comes as Taiwan gears up for a presidential election where a dominating issue will be relations with the mainland -- which sees the self-ruled island as its own territory and has vowed to seize it.

Over 30 Hong Kong protesters who fear prosecution for their involvement in the ransacking of the finance hub's legislature on July 1 have arrived in Taiwan to seek shelter, Taiwan's Apple Daily said, citing unnamed sources.

The report said the activists are staying in various locations and that some are receiving assistance from local NGOs.

The Mainland Affairs Council, Taiwan's top policy-making body on China, did not confirm whether any requests for sanctuary had been made.

But it issued a statement Friday saying it would handle such cases "under the principle of respecting human rights protections and humanitarian concerns".

"(We) can provide necessary assistance to Hong Kong residents whose safety and freedom are in urgent danger due to political reasons," it said.

Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen added her support for such a move.

"These friends from Hong Kong will be treated in an appropriate way on humanitarian grounds," Taiwan's Central News Agency quoted her as saying during a visit to the Caribbean island of Saint Lucia, one of Taiwan's few remaining diplomatic allies.

- Unprecedented protests -

Hong Kong has been rocked by more than a month of huge and largely peaceful protests -- as well as a series of separate violent confrontations with police -- sparked by a law that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China and other countries.

Taiwan's history of providing sanctuary to Chinese dissidents has been mixed.

The island still does not recognise the legal concept of asylum but has, on occasions, allowed dissidents to stay on long term visas.

Tsai's offer comes as she is seeking a second term at January's election.

Ties with Beijing have soured since she came to power in 2016 because her party refuses to recognise the idea that Taiwan is part of "one China".

Since her landslide victory, Beijing has cut official communications, ramped up military exercises, poached diplomatic allies and ratcheted up economic pressure on the island.

Tsai has described the 2020 presidential election as a "fight for freedom and democracy", setting herself up as someone who can defend Taiwan from an increasingly assertive Beijing.

Her main opponent Han Kuo-yu -- from the more China-friendly Kuomintang party -- has advocated warmer ties with the mainland.

Apple Daily said around 30 more protesters are planning to come to Taiwan later hoping to stay long-term and follow the case set by Hong Kong bookseller Lam Wing-kee.

Lam, who disappeared into Chinese custody for half a year at the end of 2015, fled to Taiwan in April.

He was one of five publishers selling gossip-filled tomes on China's leaders who vanished, resurfacing in Chinese custody and making televised confessions.

Taiwanese authorities initially granted the 64-year-old a one month business stay and have since extended it twice to late October.

Lam told AFP he has heard about the Hong Kong anti-government protesters fleeing to Taiwan from his "connections in Canada who are willing to help in case they couldn't stay in Taiwan".