Protests send Hong Kongers to Taiwan in search of new lives

KAOHSIUNG: protests that have paralyzed Hong Kong for almost six months they are pressing residents to seek new lives abroad, and many turn to nearby democracy Taiwan To escape the uncertainty at home.

Taiwan has long attracted Hong Kong ers seeking an alternative to their city's frenetic pace and sky-high rents.

But the number granted short-term and permanent residency in Taiwan rose nearly 30 percent to over 4,000 between January and September from a year earlier, with investment from Hong Kong almost doubling.

Leonardo Wong was in the southern Taiwan ese city of Kaohsiung last month scouting locations for a restaurant he plans to open when he moves to the island in January.

Hong Kong is no longer safe. You don't know what would happen tomorrow. There are too many external forces that could change the course of things, the 27-year-old told AFP.

"Now it feels rather like things could never go back to the way they were. We can't see what kind of future ( Hong Kong ) is heading towards." Taiwan does not recognise the legal concept of asylum or accept refugee applications, fearful of a potential influx from the authoritarian mainland.

But Hong Kong ers can apply to live on the island through a variety of means, including investment visas.

Former systems analyst Chow Chung-ming recently obtained a residence permit through a scheme that requires an investment of Tw $ 6 million ($ 197,000), a fraction of the costs associated with other popular immigration destinations such as Australia, Canada and the United States

The 41-year-old man moved to Kaohsiung, attracted in part by lower incomes, which helped him fulfill his childhood dream of opening a cat cafe in July, but also the relative freedoms of the island.

"In Taiwan , freedom of speech is in the present tense. People can elect the president and lawmakers -- rights that Hong Kong ers don't have and I don't see any chance of ever having," he said.

Protests in Hong Kong erupted in response to proposed legislation that would have allowed extraditions to the mainland, but have snowballed into demands for greater freedoms in the city.

Beijing officially espouses a so-called one country, two systems policy on Hong Kong, allowing the city greater freedoms and rule of law, but protesters argue that has been gradually eroded.

A 50-year guarantee of that status will expire in 2047, with many Hong Kong ers convinced their freedoms will keep shrinking until the city is fully absorbed into the mainland.

I think the tightening on freedom will continue in Hong Kong until it's 'one country, one system', Chow said.

The current departure of Hong Kong ers abroad is described by some as a third wave, after many residents went overseas ahead of the 1997 British handover and, in smaller numbers, after the 2014 failure of the pro-democracy .

Businesswoman Suki Lui has regularly participated in pro-democracy protests, but she now plans to relocate to Taiwan , hoping to give her two-year-old daughter a better future.

My emotions have gone through so many ups and downs and I feel that I have endured more emotions than I can bear, said the 37-year-old.

I hope you can get a better education, you can enjoy freedom, you can realize your dreams in the future ... I hope you can choose and live in a city with hope.

But even those who move to Taiwan will live under a cloud cast by China.

Beijing sees the autonomous island as part of its territory and has promised to seize it by force if necessary, even though the two have been ruled separately for the past seven decades.

President Tsai Ing-wen, who took office in 2016, refuses to acknowledge that the island is part of one China and has repeatedly voiced support for Hong Kong's pro-democracy protesters.

In response, Beijing has ramped up economic and military pressure on Taiwan and poached many of the island's few remaining diplomatic allies.

Tsai faces elections in January against an opponent that favors much warmer ties with Beijing and qualified the next vote to fight for freedom and democracy.

Some displaced Hong Kong ers hope the island will heed the lessons of the unrest in their home city.

"I can't vote yet but I hope people will vote for someone who can safeguard Taiwan ," said Chow.

Phoenix Law, 30, said she moved to Taiwan in September drawn by the island's greater freedoms.

"If people (in Taiwan ) don't accept what the president does, they can resist," she said.

"I hope Taiwan ese people are on alert after seeing the situation in Hong Kong . Don't trust the Chinese Communist Party, what they say may sound nice but that are all lies."