Taiwan throws its weight behind Hong Kong citizens who want to resettle on the island

Hong Kongers who live in Taiwan and Taiwanese who support Hong Kongs freedom display placards reading Heaven will not tolerate to destroy Hong Kong during a press conference organized by Hong Kong Outlanders in Taipei on May 27, 2020.Sam Yeh | AFP | Getty Images

Taiwan has pledged to help resettle Hong Kongers who want to leave the city in the face of China's tightening grip.

Beijing on Thursday approved a proposal to draft national security legislation that critics say will infringe on Hong Kong's freedom and autonomy, and grant the central government in China broad powers to crush dissent in the special administrative region.

Hong Kong has seen months of pro-democracy protests that started out as demonstrations over a now-withdrawn extradition bill, but later morphed into broader anti-government demonstrations calling for greater democracy and universal suffrage. The protests eased during the coronavirus pandemic as social distancing measures were put in place.

Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen said on Twitter Wednesday evening that her government was drawing up a plan for Hong Kong citizens that will include "plans for their residence, placement, employment, & life in Taiwan."

The proposed law for Hong Kong has triggered protests in the city amid renewed concerns over eroding freedoms in the former British colony, as its implementation will bypass the territory's legislature.

'One country, two systems'

The law will breach the "one country, two systems" principle under which China governs Hong Kong, and undermine the territory's autonomy, critics say. That agreement began in 1997, when the United Kingdom handed over the former British colony to China, and was expected to last 50 years until 2047.

World leaders have decried Beijing's move, while China claims the law was "designed for steady implementation of 'one country, two systems.'"

Beijing slapped down Tsai's offer to Hong Kong asylum seekers, telling Taiwan's ruling Democratic Progressive Party's to stop "looting a burning house," reported Chinese state news agency Xinhua, which cited a spokesman of the Taiwan Affairs Office, an administrative agency under the central Chinese government.

"Bringing black, violent forces into Taiwan will bring disaster to Taiwan's people," the spokesperson Ma Xiaoguang reportedly said, according to a CNBC translation. He was referring to Hong Kong protesters.

Hong Kongers have already been leaving for democratic, self-ruled Taiwan, an island that China claims as a province. The Chinese Communist Party has never governed Taiwan.

Official data from Taiwan's immigration authority show 2,383 Hong Kong citizens were granted Taiwanese residency in the first four months of 2020 — a 150% increase from the same period last year. 

The United Kingdom has also come out to extend assistance to Hong Kong citizens holding the British National (Overseas) passport, a document offered to Hong Kong citizens before the territory was handed over to China in 1997.

On Thursday, British foreign secretary Dominic Raab told the BBC that the U.K. is considering visa rights for more than 300,000 BNO passport-holders. That would provide "a pathway to future citizenship," he told the BBC.

BNO passport holders have the right to British consular assistance but are not British citizens. However, they have the right to stay in the U.K. for six months.

"I think that it is the responsibility of the United States, the United Kingdom and other countries right now to send very strong signals to Beijing about how they are going to stand with the people of Hong Kong," said Michael Fuchs, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a non-partisan public policy research and advocacy organization.

Taiwan concerns over Hong Kong law

Beijing's approval to impose the national security law in Hong Kong has stoked concerns and anger among in Taiwan.

Taiwanese have broad sympathy for Hong Kong's people, and major political parties in Taiwan have rejected the "one country, two systems" principle. Beijing has been trying to win over Taiwan to adopt the framework for years under what it calls a "reunification" of the two lands.

According to one analyst, Beijing is taking a strong stance toward Hong Kong as it is troubled by recent U.S. support for Taiwan — such as the backing of Taipei's bid to join an important World Health Organization meeting.

Although the U.S. does not have official diplomatic ties with Taiwan, it sells arms to the island and patrols the Taiwan Strait where China has been stepping up its own military drills.

China "can't reach out and 'touch' Taiwan, but they certainly can (for) Hong Kong," said Christopher Johnson, Freeman Chair in China Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

China-Taiwan relations

The relationship between China and Taiwan is at its frostiest in years, as Beijing views Tsai as a separatist. She won her second term in office during the presidential elections in January.

"Taiwanese people are really worried about the Hong Kong situation," said Kirk Yang, chairman and CEO of Kirkland Capital, a private equity firm.

"Because if the so-called 'one country, two systems' doesn't work in Hong Kong, it will be difficult for the Taiwanese to accept that also," said Taiwan-born Yang, who was previously an Asia technology analyst at Barclays Capital.

On Thursday, at the conclusion of China's annual parliamentary session, Chinese premier Li Keqiang said that Beijing "will continue to firmly oppose Taiwan independence."

He added that "on that basis, we are ready to have dialogue and political consultation with any party in Taiwan …. (for) peaceful cross-strait negotiations and peaceful reunification of China," according to an official English translation.

His comments came less than a week after Tsai pledged to "engage in dialogue with China" and said both sides need to find "a way to coexist."

Beijing has never renounced the use of force to bring Taiwan under its folds and Li ostensibly dropped the word "peaceful" when referring to "reunification" with the island in a separate speech last week.

CNBC's Evelyn Cheng contributed to this report.