TAINAN, TAIWAN – Kitty Wong and Adolf Lim are tightening the screws on their future in Taiwan as they make the final touches to a hostel in the southern city of Tainan, that they hope will open its doors to vacationers next month.
The couple from Hong Kong came to Taiwan in search of a stress-free life after being disappointed with the fragmentation of society back in Hong Kong, along with the daily negativity that they found hard to escape. This is the third hostel they are opening since their arrival in 2016.
“The level of evil that you are dealing with is too high, I just see no way out,” Lim says, talking about how the Chinese Communist Party is clamping down on freedom in his hometown.
It is not only the pressure from the mainland that made him pack his bags, but also daily acts of frustration that drive a wedge in society.
“As they are unable to attack Uncle Xi, they go ahead and attack tourists,” he said, referring to the attitude of fellow Hong Kong citizens to visitors from the mainland, who are often resented for their perceived poor manners.
“I feel incapable to change the regime, but I am also unable to accept this sort of behavior.”
“Recently, we’ve been getting a lot of inquiries,” says Kitty Wong, referring to their status as something of a point of contact for Hong Kong citizens wanting to make the jump.
Many of the Hong Kong people ask about the possibility of gaining citizenship in Taiwan as investors.
The number of people from Hong Kong and neighboring Macau, a former Portuguese enclave also given special autonomy under Chinese rule, granted Taiwan residency has more than doubled to 1,267 in 2018 from a decade ago, official data shows.
The trend spiked in the two years following big protests calling for full democracy in 2014 that paralyzed parts of Hong Kong for months. And it shows no signs of abating.
There were about 400 such immigrants to Taiwan in the first four months of 2019, a 40 percent jump from a year ago.
Cafe owner Ricky Chang first came to Taiwan as a student and decided to settle down in Tainan in 2013 after several stints in other countries. He, too, is often approached for advice by hopeful immigrants who are eager to gain citizenship in Taiwan in case things get too difficult in Hong Kong.
Although he didn’t move to Taiwan for political reasons, a proposed extradition law in Hong Kong has changed his thinking.
“I’m worried that I have been engaging in some behaviors that, although they are legal in Taiwan and don’t go against the law, might be seen as violations of the law in mainland China and that there might come a day when I travel on a plane with a layover in Hong Kong or go back to Hong Kong to see my parents, that I might be arrested at the airport,” he said.
The extradition bill is the latest in a string of issues that have troubled ties between Hong Kong and Beijing, and sparked big protests in the financial hub.
Hong Kong people have in recent years been increasingly upset by mainland immigrants and sky-high property prices partly pushed up by mainland investors.
The influx of mainlanders into Hong Kong was the main reason that drove Joe Ching, an entrepreneur in the logistics sector who still has operations in Hong Kong, across the Taiwan Strait to find a future for his family of three.
“I moved to Taiwan to look for another way forward because I don’t want my children to have any interaction or link with mainland Chinese,” he says.
He said Taiwan people should think carefully about who they vote into office as the stakes are increasingly high.
China has proposed using the “one country, two systems” formula, under which Hong Kong returned from British rule in 1997, for Taiwan in case of a “reunification” of the self-ruled island and China.
Taiwan is claimed by China as part of its territory, though the communist-run government in Beijing has never ruled Taiwan.