Taiwan lawmakers launch new group to promote democracy in Hong Kong

Legislators from Taiwan and Hong Kong pose for photographs during a ceremony at the parliament in Taipei on June 12, 2017.

TAIPEI (AFP) - Lawmakers in Taiwan launched a new group to help promote democracy in Hong Kong on Monday (June 12), a move likely to rile Beijing ahead of the 20th anniversary of the handover of the city from Britain back to China.

Taiwan and Hong Kong are thorns in Beijing's side - both saw huge anti-China protests in 2014, known respectively as the Sunflower Movement and Umbrella Movement.

Ties with self-ruling Taiwan have worsened under China-sceptic President Tsai Ing-wen, who took office last year.

Beijing still sees Taiwan as part of its territory to be reunified and wants Tsai to acknowledge that the island is part of "one China", which she has refused to do.

In semi-autonomous Hong Kong, frustration at a lack of political reform and fears that freedoms are under threat have led to the emergence of groups calling for self-determination or even independence from China, infuriating Beijing.

The new "Taiwan Congressional Hong Kong Caucus" comprises 18 lawmakers who say they want to help promote democracy in Hong Kong, including Huang Kuo-chang - one of the leaders of the Sunflower Movement and now a lawmaker with the New Power Party, which he heads.

Four other NPP legislators are part of the caucus, with the other members coming from Tsai's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

"We have seen that the Beijing government continues to suppress Hong Kong people's pursuit of true democracy," Huang told reporters on Monday.

The caucus would offer "assistance" by helping campaigners and lawmakers in both places to exchange views and discuss public policies, he added.

Huang and other top activists from the Sunflower Movement have been barred from entering Hong Kong since 2014.

High-profile Hong Kong pro-democracy activists and lawmakers, including Joshua Wong and Nathan Law, also attended the launch.

Law described Taiwan as an "ally".

"We need to be united and share our experiences more as we are faced with suppression," Wong added.

The 20-year-old emphasised that he did not advocate independence for Hong Kong - his and Law's party Demosisto is calling for self-determination.

But political analyst Willy Lam said Beijing would not differentiate between independence activists and campaigners like Law and Wong.

Lam predicted Chinese authorities would "ferociously attack" the new group as evidence of collusion between pro-independence forces.

Taiwan has never formally declared independence from China and Beijing has said it would react with force if it ever did.

Tsai's DPP is traditionally pro-independence, fuelling Beijing's suspicion of her government.

Hong Kong is deeply divided into those calling for more democracy and pro-China voices as it approaches the July 1 handover anniversary.

Law was attacked by pro-Beijing demonstrators at Hong Kong airport in January on his return from a trip to Taiwan.

Wong and Law were both greeted by pro-China protesters in Taipei on that visit, during which they participated in an exchange of views between the democratic movements of Hong Kong and Taiwan.

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