Enact refugee law to help Hong Kong, Taiwan presidential hopeful says

TAIPEI (Reuters) - Taiwan should enact a refugee law to help the people of Hong Kong, the main opposition candidate to be Taiwan’s next president said on Thursday, a move that could complicate his stated desire to improve strained relations with Beijing.

Anti-government protests in the Chinese-controlled city have attracted broad concern in democratic Taiwan, which China claims as its own territory. Taiwan’s government has said it strongly supports people’s aspirations for freedom and democracy.

Taiwan currently has no law on refugees that could be applied to Hong Kong protesters who may seek asylum on the island. Its laws do promise though to help Hong Kong citizens whose safety and liberty are threatened for political reasons.

Writing on his Facebook page Han Kuo-yu, the presidential candidate for the Kuomintang party that favors closer ties with China, said he “fully supported” the passing of a refugee law amid the protests in Hong Kong and that there could be “no discounts on human rights”.

Han, trailing in the polls behind President Tsai Ing-wen and the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) ahead of the Jan. 11 vote, said his opponent was using the Hong Kong protests to whip up concerns at home for electoral gain.

Tsai has denied this. Han, who is mayor of the southern city of Kaohsiung and has cast doubt on his low polling numbers, said the pro-independence DPP was being “coy” about a refugee law.

“Human rights are the essence of democracy and democracy is an extension of human rights,” wrote Han. “This main dish, the refugee law, should be put on the table.”

China has denounced comments by Taiwan’s government and politicians about the Hong Kong protests.

If Han were to defy expectations and win, Beijing would likely not take kindly to him formally offering asylum to Hong Kong protesters.

Taiwan’s government says there has been a spike in the number of Hong Kongers moving to Taiwan, but it is unclear how many may try to claim asylum there.

Speaking to reporters earlier in the day, Chiu Chui-cheng, the deputy head of Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, responded to a question on a refugee law by saying the authorities would provide help as needed to people from Hong Kong in Taiwan.

“We know that these students are anxious about many people who may be staying in Taiwan and looking for help and hope that they can get proper or positive assistance,” Chiu said, following a meeting with a Hong Kong student delegation.

Taiwan will, in accordance with existing laws and on humanitarian principles, provide “necessary help for individual cases”, Chiu said, without specifying which students he had met.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Alex Richardson