As unrest in Hong Kong continues, some in the territory are looking to the less expensive rents, leafy green streets and relative political shelter of Taiwan as a safe haven.
The number of people moving to Taiwan from Hong Kong has risen rapidly — up 28 percent over the first seven months of this year compared with a year earlier — fueled in the past few months by anti-government protests that have swept the former British colony amid fear its autonomy from Beijing is being eroded.
Upwardly mobile entrepreneurs, salespeople and managers have said they are attracted by a better quality of life in the democratically run Taiwan — including cheaper property prices, business opportunities and a safer living environment.
Hong Kong’s violence has increased in the past few weeks as police and protesters clash and demonstrations spread across the territory, including sit-ins that paralyzed its international airport for two straight days last week.
China has doubled down on support for Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam (林鄭月娥) amid fears it will send in its army to restore order, and the territory’s economy has begun feeling the toll of 11 straight weeks of rallies.
With no end in sight, some residents are looking for a way to leave.
President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) has been vocal in her support for Hong Kong’s protesters in their pursuit of greater democracy.
Tsai is up for re-election in January and has seen her support ratings rebound since the movement began, as Taiwanese voters recoil at the scenes unfolding in Hong Kong.
“I want to move to Taiwan because Hong Kong is in a period of white terror and ruled by the police, which scares me,“ said 37-year-old retail salesperson Steven Chen, a Hong Konger who said he was working to move to Taiwan. “I saw no future for the city when it returned to China some 20 years ago, but now it’s dangerous to live in, as the police are not protecting people.”
Chen said he was borrowing money from friends and family to come up with the NT$6 million (US$191,375) Hong Kong residents need to apply for residency through a Taiwanese government investment scheme.
He has joined every protest since July 1 in support of Hong Kong’s protesters, including one in which he was almost hit by a rubber bullet, Chen said, adding that he sees his life as being in danger.
Dozens of Hong Kong protesters involved in last month’s ransacking of the Legislative Council havearrived in Taiwan to seek asylum, the Chinese-language Apple Daily reported.
They were preceded by prominent advocate and bookseller Lam Wing-kei (林榮基), who fled to Taiwan over the extradition legislation that sparked the protest movement.
New arrivals from Hong Kong accounted for 9.4 percent of all immigration to Taiwan in the first half — almost double last year’s percentage — according to Bloomberg calculations based on data from the National Immigration Agency.
The trend is likely to continue as the Taiwanese government has no caps on relocations from Hong Kong and is open to more of its residents coming.
“We welcome them,” Minister of the Interior Hsu Kuo-yung (徐國勇) said, adding that applications from Hong Kong have risen at least 30 percent in the past few weeks.
In a survey late last year by the Chinese University of Hong Kong — before the protests started — Taiwan ranked as the third most-popular destination for Hong Kongers planning to move overseas, after Canada and Australia.
Norris Lo is another Hong Konger attracted by what Taiwan has to offer.
She and her husband plan to open a pastry shop in Taichung next year. After considering countries like Australia and New Zealand, they opted for Taiwan due to its affordability.
“We want to open a small store of our own, and it’s impossible to do so in Hong Kong,” the 34-year-old pastry teacher said.
She also cited the territory’s soaring cost of living and densely packed environment.
“We don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel,” she said. “If we could see a better future in the next 10 or 20 years, we would be willing to wait, but we don’t see it.”
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