Taiwan becomes growing destination for Hong Kong residents looking for more freedom

(NEW YORK) — As the Chinese government increased its crackdown on political speech and dissenters in Hong Kong in recent years, tens of thousands of longtime residents have fled to nearby Taiwan to escape the oppression.

For many ex-pats, like Annie Zhang, a former editor of a Hong Kong-based media company, their new surroundings have allowed them to express themselves without any fear of jail time or other forms of severe repercussions.

“Many of my friends are cultural producers, or maybe they are booksellers. They are writers. They are artists, but they cannot create things freely in Hong Kong now. So that’s why they chose to leave,” Zhang told ABC News.

Even as tension has risen between Taiwan and its allies and China, some of those in exile say they are determined to speak out and push back against the aggression.

More than 121,000 Hong Kong residents have left the territory in the last year, according to data from Hong Kong’s Census and Statistics Department.

Since 2019, Taiwan has welcomed more than 37,000 Hong Kong residents, according to data from the Taiwanese government.

Two years ago, the Chinese government imposed new national security law on Hong Kong that outlawed “secession, subversion of state power, terrorism and foreign collusion” in intervening in Hong Kong’s affairs. The law was enacted following protests in 2019 and 2020 against the government over its attempt to change its extradition policy.

Hundreds of Hong Kong residents were arrested and targeted in violations of the law for speaking out against the government.

Kacey Wong was a visual artist based in Hong Kong and put out videos that protested the Chinese government’s policies. In one video, he dressed up as Moses and delivered demands to the government.

Wong said he fled to Taiwan after an article in a state-owned newspaper in Hong Kong highlighted his work and protests.

“I think they don’t like to be laughed at. And I think my gripe is I kind of make fun of them. That’s my crime,” Wong told ABC News.

Many Hong Kong ex-pats have continued to publicly express defiance of the Chinese laws since they relocated to Taiwan.

And now many of those ex-pats are witnessing their former country’s government flex its military muscle against their new haven.

Soon after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan and met with its leaders on Aug. 2, the Chinese government stepped up its military presence around the waters between the two nations. Pelosi was the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Taiwan in 25 years.

In addition to military drills involving jets and ships, the Chinese military also launched missiles that flew over the island.

In reaction to the growing military moves, many Taiwanese residents are training to fight back in case of an attack by the Chinese government.

Robert Tsao, a retired businessman who founded the United Microelectronics Corporation, told ABC News he donated $100 million U.S. to support training Taiwan’s military and civilians.

Tsao said he was spurred to make the donations following Pelosi’s visit and the Chinese government’s military drills.

“I will fight to die. I won’t live to see Taiwan become another Hong Kong,” he told ABC News. “I will not [be] going to allow that happen. They have to over my dead body to do that.”

But as the hostility between the Chinese government and Taiwan wages on, some of the Hong Kong residents who have settled on the island said they have deeper fears.

Wong told ABC News that he is preparing for the possibility that he may have to relocate again.

“From my perspective, I think Hong Kong is the first step. So it’s fallen as a city and Taiwan is next,” he said.

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