KAOHSIUNG (Taiwan News) – The arrival of an asylum seeker from China on a beach in Kinmen last weekend understandably drew headlines across Taiwan and beyond.
The 45-year old said he had swum for seven hours to cross the treacherous Weitou Bay (圍頭灣) from Xiamen. On being detained he claimed he could no longer stand the political climate in China and yearned for the freedom of Taiwan.
Given the levels of hostility being shown toward Taiwan by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), the authorities in Kinmen are understandably seeking to clarify his story before processing any asylum claim. They will be keen to ensure he isn’t a spy, or a risk to national security.
That said, given the dire situation in China right now — widespread flooding, food shortages, a rapidly contracting economy, not to mention the ongoing Wuhan coronavirus pandemic — it should come as no surprise if ordinary people give up on the CCP’s lies and seek a better life in a freer society.
Much has been written about how Taiwan should attempt to use the CCP’s illegal annexation of Hong Kong to attract the city’s business and financial talent to the island nation. But the reality is there will likely be an awful lot of ordinary people seeking to flee the new totalitarian regime that is rapidly taking hold there.
The United Kingdom has offered a path to citizenship to those who hold British Overseas Status. There are also indications that some of the U.K.'s diplomatic allies will take people in, since moving to a country with a different language and culture can be difficult.
The attraction of Taiwan to many of Hong Kong’s 7.5 million people will be huge. The draw to those inside China who have had enough of the regime will also be great.
Taiwan is close to their homeland and shares many of the cultural traditions that Chinese live by. It is a Chinese-speaking nation, but one which offers freedom, democracy, justice, healthcare, and perhaps, most importantly, opportunity.
As the situation deteriorates in Hong Kong and China, we can expect the flow of asylum seekers arriving in Taiwan from these countries (on planes and boats, rather than swimming) to soar. Taiwan has a moral duty to accept as many of these asylum seekers as it is able to.
However, such a policy obviously has risks. The CCP will be far from happy if Taiwan begins offering asylum and is likely to sneak spies or people infected with COVID-19 and other diseases into the country, just as it did when Taiwan evacuated its citizens from Wuhan in the early stages of the pandemic.
Even so, if Taiwan can show the same level of preparedness for an influx of asylum seekers from China and Hong Kong as it did for the coronavirus, the situation would definitely work to Taiwan's advantage.
Much has been written about the problem of Taiwan's low birth rate and the likely economic impact this will have. An influx of migrants will boost the population, most probably with working-age people, who can help to grow the economy quickly and positively.
Ready to fight
Many will come with knowledge, talent, and skills that can help the Taiwanese economy reach into new areas and complement rather than replicate the skills-base Taiwan already has. The nation would also gain a population of healthy Taiwan supporting adults who are fundamentally opposed to the communist regime in China and would help fight off an attempted invasion.
The main concern for the government will be one of integration. Large migrant populations almost always get a hostile welcome from locals, especially if they congregate in inward-facing communities.
The key will be to disperse these migrants across the country and help them to integrate with local communities rather than living in ghettos. The shared language skills and cultural similarities should help in this respect.
The man who swam from Xiamen to Kinmen shows the situation in China is less harmonious than Xi Jinping’s (習近平) propaganda machine would have us believe. Life in communist China is in decline, while nationalism and annexation can only paper over the cracks for so long.
Taiwan is on the front-line of what could be the world’s biggest ever humanitarian and refugee crisis. It is an opportunity that Taiwan must be prepared for.