Politics in Hong Kong has turned dangerously authoritarian. A lackluster and incompetent politician, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam (林鄭月娥) has ignored the political divide plaguing the territory for months. Appeasing Beijing at the expense of Hong Kongers’ well-being, she has squandered the tremendous financial surpluses the territory built up in a decades-long boom and spent heavily on policing, surveillance and control.
While the majority of Hong Kongers find it inconceivable to seek asylum abroad, increasing numbers of young people are fleeing because of human rights abuses.
Taiwan leads the free world in sheltering asylum seekers from Hong Kong and beyond. The August arrest of 12 Hong Kongers at sea attests to the importance of the nation as a safe haven for asylum seekers.
In May, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) was the first elected government leader to pledge concrete measures to aid Hong Kong. This decision came weeks before China imposed national security legislation on the territory, ending its version of “one country, two systems.”
Other countries are following Taiwan’s example. The US House of Representatives has introduced the Hong Kong Safe Harbor Act, providing qualified Hong Kongers with priority status for refugee consideration.
Faced with a huge backlog of asylum cases due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Washington is prioritizing applicants already in the country seeking protection.
Besides expanding allocations for people from Hong Kong, Cuba and Venezuela in the resettlement program, the US is allegedly adding another 30,000 immigration visas annually for five years through a points-based system that scores applicants on variables such as age, education, cultural fluency and employment experience. The goal is to attract capable and talented people.
Under the shadow of the refugee crisis, countless people are fleeing from horrible conditions. International support for war refugees and asylum seekers is genuinely humanitarian, but it has significant geopolitical, social and economic implications.
By welcoming refugees from Hong Kong, Taiwan and the US are sending a powerful signal, condemning the moral failure of the Lam regime and China’s mistreatment of the territory. Undoubtedly, the implementation of an asylum policy is contingent upon their respective security concerns and ties with China.
Many foreign-policy analysts say that Taiwan and the US should use the programs to advance geopolitical objectives.
During the Cold War, Washington launched its asylum and refugee efforts as part of an anti-communist strategy, admitting people from socialist bloc countries. Thus, should Taipei and Washington feel threatened by Beijing, they could admit more Hong Kongers to challenge China’s international standing.
Domestic politics also often play an influential role in shaping national policies toward asylum seekers.
As random police arrests and routine torture become daily events in the territory, many overseas Hong Kongers and supporters are lobbying officials to condemn human rights abuses and to coordinate global rescue efforts.
Taiwan and the US are doing right by giving asylum to Hong Kong activists on humanitarian grounds. These asylum seekers wholeheartedly embrace the universal values and norms that are essential for defending the integrity of democratic citizenship anywhere.
Being part of a major flow of talent, Hong Kongers’ cosmopolitan knowledge and special skills would enrich the social, economic, intellectual and technological advancement of their host nations.
Joseph Tse-hei Lee is a professor of history at Pace University in New York City.
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