As Hong Kongers trickle into Taiwan seeking asylum, a documentary about the Hong Kong protests of 2019-20 is prompting Taiwanese moviegoers and civic groups to question current immigration laws.
The documentary, "Revolution of Our Times," became the highest-grossing Chinese-language overseas documentary in Taiwan's film history in its first week of screening. It opened February 25 in more than 30 theaters throughout Taiwan, according to Taiwan's Central News Agency, grossing some $558,000 (NT$16 million) by March 8.
During that week, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen promoted the film on her Instagram feed, and on March 9, she took to Twitter, saying "The Hong Kong people's courage & commitment to democracy are an inspiration to us all, as we work to preserve our own freedoms & way of life."
The film is in Cantonese, the language spoken in Hong Kong. It chronicles the protests that erupted in Hong Kong in response to the Beijing-controlled government's introduction of an extradition bill.
The documentary covers key events in the sometimes-violent protest movement, with footage of the storming of the Legislative Council complex, the 2019 Yuen Long attack, and the Hong Kong Polytechnic University siege.
"We've been waiting a long time for a commercial release in (Taiwan's) theater chains," Kiwi Chow Kwun-wai, the director, a Hong Konger, told VOA Mandarin. "This is the only chance at the moment to reach a wide audience in Taiwan. I am very excited about the positive aspects."
The film, which premiered at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival, is banned in China and Hong Kong. It has been getting an international rollout — San Francisco; London; Vancouver, British Columbia; and elsewhere — starting April 1.
After watching the documentary, Rebecca Hu, a Taiwanese YouTube influencer, told VOA Mandarin, "I think I am very lucky to live in Taiwan, because I think it's so disheartening to see police beat (Hong Kongers). The police are supposed to protect the people."
Chenter Yang, an educator in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, told VOA Mandarin that the documentary serves as a warning to citizens of liberal democracies "who are suppressed or threatened under the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) regime."
"I hope that in the future we can have the opportunity or have more ways to help (Hong Kongers) get the justice they deserve," Yang told VOA Mandarin after watching the documentary.
Yang's response to the 152-minute film — that Taiwan should offer Hong Kongers more immigration assistance — is now a topic of debate in the self-governing island nation that Beijing has viewed as its territory since the CCP won power in 1949 after a civil war.
On July 1, 2020, President Tsai's government opened the Taiwan-Hong Kong Services and Exchange Office in Taipei to help Hong Kongers work and study in Taiwan, a day after the new security law came into force in Hong Kong.
In August 2021, Taiwan's Interior Ministry revised its Measures for Hong Kong and Macao Residents to Enter Taiwan and Residency and Settlement Permits, the name of a law stating that if a resident of Hong Kong or Macau, both controlled by Beijing, has current or former work or investment ties to China's government, Taiwanese authorities will deny a residency application.
According to the latest data released by Taiwan's immigration service, the number of Hong Kong residents who have obtained Taiwan residence permits and settlement permits has hit a record high in 2021, when it granted 11,173 residence permits — an increase of 360 over 2020 — and 1,685 settlement permits, an increase of 109 over the previous year.
Some Hong Kongers' applications for Taiwanese residency have been hampered because of Taiwan's national security review of their ties to China, said Hsiao Tu-huan, deputy secretary-general of Taiwan Friends of China, Hong Kong and Macau Association and assistant professor at the Mainland China Institute of Taiwan's Tamkang University.
"In the face of possible national security concerns," Hsaio suggested that the Taiwanese government enlist experts, scholars and Hong Kong fraternal associations already established in Taiwan to help authorities confirm the identities of Hong Kongers applying for residency. Such a public-private effort "will help speed up the review process."
Hsiao said that since the beginning of the anti-extradition movement in Hong Kong, the Chinese government has repeatedly accused the Taiwan government of being involved in Hong Kong's internal affairs.
"Although the (Taiwan) government continues to study and amend relevant laws and regulations, it is hoped that the restrictions ... can be relaxed," said Hsiao, adding that official assistance for Hong Kongers has been slow.
Chui Pak Tai, chairman of the China Fraternity Taiwan-Hong Kong Inclusion Association, wrote in an opinion piece published in Now News and told VOA Mandarin that Hong Kongers seeking residency were also thwarted by Taiwan's shifting standards for granting residency.
"(Taiwan's) immigration requirements have been continuously increased," he told VOA Mandarin, reprising the points he made in his op-ed. "The original one-year registration has been changed to three years. Many business projects cannot be applied for (because) it is necessary to hire two Taiwanese to work."
Because of the historically close relationship between Hong Kong and Taiwan, which dates to 1949, "most of Hong Kong people's ideas of democracy and freedom are absorbed in Taiwan," he wrote. "The development of Taiwan's democratic movement has also allowed Hong Kong people to follow suit."
After the 2019 anti-extradition movement was suppressed by Beijing, "Some people think that the Hong Kongers have blocked the bullet for Taiwan and influenced the 2020 Taiwan election," he said. "These Hong Kongers will become a new driving force for Taiwan's democracy."