A group of protest leaders from Taiwan was barred from traveling to Hong Kong to participate in a forum on democracy, which the event organizers called a sign of the Chinese government’s concerns about the push for more open elections in Hong Kong.
The activists are leaders of the Sunflower Movement, the protesters who occupiedTaiwan’s Legislature for nearly a month this spring over efforts by Taiwan’s governing party, the Kuomintang, to push through a trade bill with China.
Lin Fei-fan, Chen Wei-ting and Huang Kuo-chang had planned to attend a forum next Monday by the New School for Democracy, a group that promotes political reform in China. They also had wanted to attend a protest march next Tuesday. ”We suspect that this is deliberate political suppression by the Chinese Communist Party and the Hong Kong government,” they said in a Facebook posting.
Andrew To, director of the New School for Democracy, said a fourth participant from Taiwan, Lin Chi-hua, was also blocked from coming.
Hong Kong immigration representatives would not comment specifically on the case. Decisions on whether to allow entry to Hong Kong are made “in accordance with the Hong Kong law and prevailing immigration policies,” the Hong Kong Immigration Department said in a written statement.
The move to bar the visitors comes as activists in Hong Kong are trying to pressure China’s central government to give Hong Kong residents more say in choosing the leadership of their semiautonomous city. An informal 10-day referendum, begun last Friday, which asked participants to choose among three proposals on how to elect Hong Kong’s chief executive, has received more than 700,000 votes. Hong Kong officials and Chinese state media have criticized the poll as invalid.
Joseph Cheng, a political science professor at City University of Hong Kong and a New School for Democracy organizer, said the group has sought to develop ties with activists in Taiwan as a way of increasing pressure on the Chinese government. China considers self-ruled Taiwan to be part of its territory, and in recent years Beijing has pushed for increased trade and cultural relations with Taiwan.
Zhang Zhijun, the head of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, arrived in Taipei on Wednesday for a four-day trip, the highest-level visit by a mainland official. Mr. Zhang’s itinerary includes visits to several cities in the south of Taiwan, where pro-independence sentiment runs strongest. Political analysts say that Mr. Zhang’s trip, which follows a landmark visit to China by his Taiwanese counterpart, Wang Yu-chi, in February, will be focused on trying to improve China’s image in Taiwan and researching why its trade overtures have been met with suspicion on the island.
“How is everybody doing?” Mr. Zhang said in Taiwanese upon his arrival, local news media reported. Unification supporters welcomed Mr. Zhang, while pro-independence groups protested his arrival and said they plan to hold demonstrations at each stage of his visit.
Those pushing for greater openness in Hong Kong elections have taken inspiration from the protests in Taiwan, where demonstrators who occupied Taiwan’s Legislature and took to the streets of Taipei this spring said they were wary of China’s growing influence. The phrase “Today Hong Kong, Tomorrow Taiwan,” has been repeated by activists in both places as a warning about the clout of China’s ruling Communist Party, Mr. Cheng said.
“It appears the Chinese authorities are very, very sensitive to these exchanges between the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong and the pro-democracy movement in Taiwan,” Mr. Cheng said.