Taiwan sympathises with Hong Kong residents - Taiwanese foreign minister

2019-07-13, 10:46 update: 2019-07-22, 13:02
Joseph Wu Photo PAP/EPA/RITCHIE B. TONGO
Joseph Wu Photo PAP/EPA/RITCHIE B. TONGO
Taiwan sympathises with the residents of Hong Kong who hope for the maintenance of their region's autonomy and for democracy, Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu told PAP in reference to major protests in the former British colony in recent weeks.

Wu emphasised Hong Kong and Taiwan as two bulwarks of freedom and democracy but noted that since Hong Kong rejoined China in 1997, a certain regression can be observed in this special administrative region of the People's Republic of China, including in the issues of freedom and independent media, while the control of the Chinese authorities is tightening all the time.

Comparing the street protests in Honk Kong to the situation in Taiwan, Wu said he thought big differences could be seen. Taiwan has its own government and is therefore in a position to secure its future and protect freedom and democracy, he asserted, while in Hong Kong everything is going backwards.

The foreign minister said the Taiwanese sympathise with the residents of Hong Kong and the latter know they have the former's silent support. He expressed hope that the people of that territory would continue the fight for freedom and democracy, that they would choose their leaders and legislative body and at the same time would manage to regain freedom of speech and freedom of the press from under Chinese supervision. 

Joseph Wu recalled the principle of 'one country, two systems' under which Hong Kong theoretically has wide-scale autonomy under the rule of Beijing. He said the original promise had been that Hong Kong would be a calling card, intended to encourage Taiwan to unify, but it could be seen that so far this had almost entirely failed.

The foreign minister drew attention to the fact that the Hong Kong electoral and legislative systems are dominated by China and the people chosen in free elections are not the greatest strengths in the legislative system. In his view, this increases residents' frustration, especially that of the young. Prices continue to rise while pay does not, which is why they see things they do not want to see. One event is enough to ignite the fire of anger, and that is what happened when they tried to amend the law on extradition, the Taiwanese foreign minister argued. 

In June, almost two million Hong Kong Chinese took part, according to organisers, in a series of marches in opposition to amendments supported by Beijing, which would have enabled, among other things, the extradition of those suspected by the authorities of continental China. In the course of the last month, fierce clashes have occurred between the police and demonstrators. During one of the protests, a group of several hundred people opposed to the amendment stormed the Hong Kong parliament building and occupied it for several hours. 

Under pressure from the strongest political protests since Hong Kong rejoined mainland China, the local authorities indefinitely suspended the project but did not withdraw from it entirely, although the region's chief executive, Carrie Lam, gave her assurance recently that the project "is dead."

The government justified the need for a rapid change in the law with the case of a Hong Kong resident suspected of committing a murder in Taiwan. Under current laws, he cannot be extradited to the island and tried there. The amendment was aimed at enabling the transfer of suspects to countries and regions with which Hong Kong does not currently have extradition agreements in place, including among others Taiwan, but also mainland China. 

It was this latter possibility that provoked the fear of Hong Kong residents. Many saw the amendment project as a further symptom of Hong Kong's autonomy being restricted and the attempted interference by the central government in the region's internal affairs. The government of Taiwan declared that it would not accept the Hong Kong resident suspected of murder if the extradition was related to the adoption of laws that also threaten the extradition to mainland China of Hong Kong residents or Taiwanese resident in Hong Kong. 

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-Wen, who comes from the ruling pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), has declared her support for the Hong Kong protesters. Thousands of residents of Taiwan's capital, Taipei, also expressed solidarity with the demonstrators, gathering during one of the protests close to Taiwan's parliament and chanting slogans of support for Hong Kong and against China. (PAP)