While Hong Kong was once a refuge for Vietnamese and mainland Chinese seeking political asylum, some Hong Kongers are now fleeing their own city in a similar manner.
Last week, Chinese authorities arrested a group of at least 10 people, including a Hong Kong pro-democracy activist, on an intercepted boat believed to be en route to Taiwan, local reports say. The passengers aimed to seek political refuge amid the enactment of Beijing’s contentious national security law.
A social media post by the Guangdong Coast Guard on August 26 only partially recognized two of the passengers by their surnames, Li and Tank, but the South China Morning Post said unnamed sources in Hong Kong and mainland China have confirmed Andy Li was among those detained.
Li is the Chairman of the Independent Election Observation Mission to Hong Kong, as well as a volunteer member of “Fight for Freedom. Stand With Hong Kong,” an organization that raises international awareness for Hong Kong’s pro-democratic movement.
He was detained earlier this month with nine others on accusations under the newly enacted national security law of collusion with foreign forces and money laundering.
Li was released on bail by police, who said he is being investigated for presumed ties to a rebel group believed to be conspiring with foreign nations.
China’s Coast Guard detailed the arrests, saying the boat was intercepted Sunday morning, August 23, between the southern province of Guangdong and Hong Kong.
“Chinese maritime officers were alerted to the presence of a boat in our jurisdiction and seized a speedboat suspected of illegally crossing the borders,” the Chinese Coast Guard disclosed, adding that the case was “under further investigation.”
China’s Coast Guard has scarcely been involved in the arrests of activists fleeing the city, but many fear that this has the potential to become a more common occurrence.
Hong Kong has seen a number of political activists detained in recent weeks following the widely-controversial national security law that took effect on June 30. It is estimated that 200 Hong Kong protesters have already fled to Taiwan, many on extended tourist visas.
Some fear that this is the beginning of what is to come as the Chinese Communist Party cracks down on political transgressions.
Authorities have claimed that the new law would not apply to past offenses, but details of more than 20 arrests have already taken into account actions, such as political speeches and online posts, made prior to the law taking effect.
Beijing implemented the national security law after months of anti-government protests, with the wide-ranging legislation covering what China has broadly defined as “subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces.” Retribution for these offenses can be up to life in prison.
The recent arrests, including that of Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai on August 10, has raised fears that China will use the law to detain pro-democracy activists and media figures that oppose the current political authority.
Many also fear the toll this will take on China’s relationship with Taiwan, a self-ruled island off China’s southeast coast. In July, Taiwan opened an office to allow Hong Kong citizens the ability to emigrate to the island. The office received more than 1,000 inquiries in its first month alone
For all intents and purposes, Taiwan has been independent since 1950, yet China views the territory as a “rebel province” that will inevitably be rejoined with the mainland.
This belief has resulted in political animosity, with Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen accusing China of attempting to force the island to accept sovereignty.
The Taiwanese newspaper China Times reported on August 28 that in July five Hong Kong activists were intercepted by Taiwan’s Coast Guard after their boat ran out of fuel and drifted toward the Pratas Islands, also known as the Dongsha Islands.
Of the five was a 24-year-old who was charged in Hong Kong for rioting, assaulting a police officer and possession of weapons during Hong Kong’s 2019 riots. Also reportedly aboard was Man Ka-kin, 21, who had skipped a court appearance over a rioting charge in July of 2019.
The five who have already fled Hong Kong are currently located in Kaohsiung city in southern Taiwan. The refusal of Tsai Ing-wen, the current president of Taiwan, to repatriate those seeking political asylum has created a growing divide between Beijing and its neighboring island.
Allowing the group to stay may violate Beijing’s national security law, while extraditing them to Hong Kong could go against the pro-independence stance of the sovereign nation.
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