Taiwan's main opposition party has seized on President Tsai Ing-wen's refusal to implement a long-delayed refugee bill that would allow Hong Kong protesters fleeing arrest in the city to settle on the island.
The Kuomintang (KMT) seized on the issue ahead of next month's presidential election to attack Tsai, accusing her of "lying" about her support for the pro-democracy protests to win votes.
Last week, Hong Kong student representatives, including Baptist University Student Union president Keith Fong Chung-yin, visited the self-ruled island to lobby government representatives for greater measures to protect Hong Kong residents looking to settle there long-term, including speeding up the passing of the refugee bill.
It is estimated that about 200 Hong Kong protesters have arrived in Taiwan to escape arrest since the anti-extradition protests began in June, with many staying on short-term tourist visas that last for a maximum of 30 days but can be extended.
Taiwan has no formal legislation for processing asylum applications but its laws promise to help Hong Kong and Macau citizens "whose safety and liberty are immediately threatened by political reasons".
Fong, who visited Taiwan with members of the Hong Kong Higher Institutions International Affairs delegation between Monday and Thursday last week, expressed concern over the government's failure to make progress on the matter.
"If the DPP only verbally supports the Hong Kong protests without implementing concrete measures to support protesters, it's inevitable that people will suspect that the DPP only wants to exchange Hongkongers' sacrifices for Taiwanese people's votes," Fong wrote on Facebook.
The mainland-friendly KMT seized on his comments saying: "When (Fong) said that the DPP has capitalised on the bloodshed of Hong Kong people for its own electoral gain, it proved that President Tsai and the DPP have used the Hong Kong issue as an electoral manoeuvre."
"It is highly improper for both Tsai and her party to pay lip service by lying on the one hand that they support Hong Kong people's fight for democracy and freedom, but on the other hand refusing to heed the voices of the Hong Kong people."
Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council, however, denied that the government is trying to use the Hong Kong issue to make political gains.
"The government has long showed concern about the situation in Hong Kong and support of the democratic movement there," it said.
The council continued that Fong had misunderstood the island's stance on Hong Kong issues and how Taipei deals with Hong Kong residents seeking shelter on the island.
"The government will deal with cases with humanitarian concern and in line with relevant laws," it said.
While the Hong Kong protests have received widespread public support in Taiwan, they have also heightened people's concerns about the perceived failure of "one country, two systems" - which Beijing has proposed as a model for the island's reunification with the mainland.
Various opinion polls have shown that Tsai is far ahead of her KMT opponent Han Kuo-yu in a campaign in which her vocal support for the Hong Kong protesters has become a key factor.
Tsai and the DPP have said repeatedly they will do all they can to help protesters seeking shelter in Taiwan.
She has also criticised the Hong Kong government and police for their handling of the anti-extradition protests that have spiralled into violence, further bolstering Taiwan's image as a beacon of democracy and human rights.
Fong later clarified his Facebook post. "We have always appreciated the Taiwanese people and government's stance towards the anti-extradition movement and the Hong Kong people," he told the South China Morning Post.
"But on the other hand, we really hope that the Taiwan government can implement specific laws to guarantee the safety of Hongkongers in Taiwan.
"In reality, we can see that the Taiwan government has not made any changes to its existing legislation. So Hong Kong people are feeling confused and don't know how to proceed."
Last week Hsu Yung-ming, the leader of the Taiwan's pro-independence New Power Party, used a press conference with Fong to urge the government to introduce the refugee law or revise existing laws to protect Hongkongers facing persecution or jail terms for their role in the protests.
So far, more than 6,000 people have been arrested during the six months of protests, which have evolved from opposing a now-withdrawn extradition bill to calling for universal suffrage and an independent inquiry into the police's conduct.
Although only a fraction have been charged so far, the most severe charges of rioting can carry a jail term of 10 years.
Critics say that the existing means for Hongkongers to legally settle in Taiwan - for example by securing an investment visa, starting a business or finding a job above a certain salary level - are limited, expensive and too slow.
Tsai has also given mixed messages on the refugee bill, which was first proposed in 2016 to offer asylum to stateless people fleeing war or natural disasters but is still languishing in the legislature.
She told a Taipei youth forum on Wednesday that there was no need for Taiwan to institute the refugee law, as current regulations governing the island's relations with Hong Kong and Macau are sufficient to deal with the issue.
Tsai played a leading role in drafting the legislation in the 1990s and said that she had "taken into account that China might not live up to its promises" and included clauses that would provide a legal basis for Hongkongers "who have suffered from persecution and unfair treatment" to come to Taiwan to study and work.
"Since we already have those clauses in the regulations, no refugee law is needed for the time being."
In September Taiwan's interior ministry said the refugee bill would not apply to Hong Kong residents or mainland Chinese.
"The existing mechanism has been working well and relevant authorities would deal with the asylum seekers on a case-by-case basis and in line with the international practices as well as human rights conventions," the ministry said.
Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong Chi-fung had visited the island that month to urge Taiwanese lawmakers to offer more concrete support for Hong Kong residents fleeing arrest.
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