TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen on Friday visited a bookshop that has become a symbol of resistance to perceived Chinese encroachments on Hong Kong’s liberties, vowing to give help to the city’s citizens fleeing to the democratic island.
Tsai this week became the first world leader to pledge specific measures to help people from Hong Kong who may leave the former British colony because of new national security legislation that has triggered fresh anti-government protests.
Hong Kong’s demonstrators have won widespread sympathy in democratic Taiwan, which China considers as its territory to be taken by force, if necessary. Taiwan has shown no interest in being ruled by China.
Sitting by a wall in front of banner reading “Free Hong Kong, revolution now” in the tiny shop in Taipei, Tsai expressed support for the city’s democracy movement and reiterated her pledge to assist fleeing Hong Kong citizens.
“In no time we will finalize the work, doing whatever we can to provide help to Hong Kong friends,” Tsai told the shop’s owner, Lam Wing-kee, who fled to Taiwan last year after he was detained by Chinese agents for selling books critical of the Chinese leadership.
Lam’s eight-month detention in 2015 triggered a huge controversy and raised fears of growing Chinese control in the financial hub.
“We are here to experience in person the challenges Hong Kong people had been through,” Tsai told Lam. “You left your native home and came to Taiwan. On behalf of Taiwanese, I’d like to welcome you.”
Last month, a man threw red paint at Lam, just days before the reopening of his “Causeway Bay Books” in central Taipei.
China is deeply suspicious of Tsai, whom it accuses of being a separatist bent on declaring formal independence. Tsai says Taiwan is already an independent country called the Republic of China, its official name.
“Free Taiwan supports freedom in Hong Kong,” Tsai wrote in a sticky note posted on a bookshelf.
(Reporting By Yimou Lee; Editing by Ben Blanchard & Simon Cameron-Moore)