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For Hong Kongers looking for change, Taiwan an attractive option

2018/02/16 11:54:56

By Flor Wang, CNA staff writer

Hong Kong's political and social environment has undergone dramatic changes since its return to Chinese rule in 1997, changes that have left many there thinking about emigrating from the former British territory to an overseas haven.

Hong Kong's Security Bureau estimates that between 6,900 and 10,300 people have applied to emigrate a year between 2005 and 2016, with the United States, Australia and Canada the three most popular destinations during that time.

But in recent years, interest in another much closer destination has gained steam among Hong Kong residents seeking a fresh start outside the "special administrative area" whose luster as a world-class city is slowly fading away.

According to figures from Taiwan's Ministry of the Interior, the number of Hong Kong and Macau citizens with permanent residency in Taiwan rose from 8,697 in 2013 to 15,449 in 2016, a 78 percent jump in three years.

A survey released by the Chinese University of Hong Kong in October 2017 showed that about 33 percent of Hong Kong's people were considering emigrating, with Taiwan the third favorite destination (chosen by 12.2 percent of respondents) after Australia and Canada (both 16.8 percent).

The survey found politics high on the list of why people wanted to leave, with 17.1 percent saying they wanted to emigrate because of too many political disputes and serious social divisions and 9.5 percent citing the lack of democracy and dissatisfaction with the political system.

Another 8.6 percent cited dissatisfaction or a lack in confidence in the central government (Beijing) or concern that it is a dictatorship.

But also high on the list were daily living issues, with 12 percent citing Hong Kong's crowded and relatively poor living environment, 8.6 percent worried about Hong Kong's economic future and 6.9 percent wanting to leave because of the high cost of housing.

It was those issues that led Miss Tu, a Hong Kong woman in her 20s, to come to live in Taiwan on her own. She told CNA she decided to settle here because of Hong Kong's high cost of living and cramped spaces.

"With an influx of crowds of Chinese tourists and shoppers, Hong Kong has become even more packed than before," she said. "In contrast, you can move easily in Taipei with the metro and U-bike.

"Taipei residents tend to think they have a fast pace of life, but it's faster in Hong Kong," Tu said, admitting the Taipei lifestyle was just right for her. "It could be too boring if I moved to Taitung."

Tu also complained about the high living expenses in Hong Kong, mainly because of its limited living space, expensive rents and high eating-out costs.

That was borne out in a report issued by the "Economist" in 2017 which ranked Hong Kong as the world's second most expensive city while Taipei placed 55th.

But there were other cultural factors that guided Tu's choice to settle in Taiwan.

She admitted to CNA that she does not like to speak English and felt that life in Taiwan is easier for her and closer to her previous lifestyle in Hong Kong.

In this sense, Taiwan is a good place for many Hong Kongers wanting to emigrate because of its geographic proximity to their home and cultural similarities.

Tu said she had no regrets about immigrating to Taiwan alone and has now opened a shop in Taipei because she loves the city.

Another Hong Konger surnamed Lee who immigrated to Taiwan in his childhood, said he already sees himself as Taiwanese but its cultural similarities to Hong Kong remain important to him.

"Despite so many years having slipped away, I still remember those years in Hong Kong vividly," he said.

"My mom sold tea drinks in Hong Kong at that time," he recalled, remembering that refined cane sugar was always added to the drinks.

"I now earn a living in Taiwan by selling Hong Kong-style tea and soft drinks, all of which are my memories of Hong Kong," he said.