While Hong Kong roars from one week of chaos to another, with pitched street battles between protesters and riot squads as the city teeters on the brink, the neighboring island of Taiwan is also becoming a scene of fierce disputes and occasional brawls by rival camps.
The latest drama was a paint attack on prominent Hong Kong singer and democracy activist Denise Ho a few days ago. Ho was spattered with red liquid at a Taipei gathering while mustering support for protesters in her home city.
Punches have also been thrown in numerous scuffles, usually between mainlanders and Hong Kongers and their Taiwanese friends when “Lennon walls” – stickers and graffitis laden with solidarity with Hong Kong – have sprouted on university campuses and in public spaces across Taipei and other big cities.
Taiwan’s education ministry said it had received a dozen reports about ‘Lennon wall’ vandalism and sabotage allegedly by mainland students and tourists over the past month. It has also had cases of fights when local and Hong Kong students tried to protect the posters and murals.
The island’s Central News Agency reported that a Hong Kong student enrolled at the I-Shou University in the southern city of Kaohsiung was assaulted by a classmate from the mainland, who tried to strangle him for repeatedly posting messages and stickers inside his dormitory supporting the protests in Hong Kong, which are now in their 17th week.
There have also been cases of mainlanders making regular visits to university campuses to trash ‘Lennon Wall’ placards and other items voicing unity between Hong Kong and Taiwanese students. These problems have now drawn a warning from the government.
Taiwanese officials have said that visitors or students from the mainland could be banished from the self-ruled island if they target Hong Kongers or vandalize ‘Lennon walls’ or other sites where people voice pro-Hong Kong opinions.
There will also be further scrutiny of mainlanders, notably those with criminal convictions or opposing political views, when Chinese apply for new visas or visa extensions.
These moves were ordered by President Tsai Ing-wen, who also weighed in after Ho was attacked during a live broadcast – stressing that her government would not accept anyone who abuses the island’s liberty and freedoms. She said the island had a wealth of support for Hong Kong.
Tsai, a staunch sympathizer of the former British enclave, called for city officials to defuse people’s seething anger. She said she had already instructed authorities to impose restrictions or even deport repeated offenders.
Taiwan’s National Immigration Agency said they would set up a task force to examine related complaints and may bar mainland visitors from returning for attacks or vandalism. Currently, only mainland visitors who have been prosecuted and jailed for breaking local laws are banned from visiting the island for a number of years.