President Tsai Ing-wen was re-elected as President of Taiwan on January 11, 2020, with a record-breaking 57% of the vote. After her party’s defeat at the 2018 local elections, it seemed unlikely that she would serve a second term. However, her popularity had risen as a result of China’s hard-line approach toward Hong Kong’s protests which revealed the necessity of defending Taiwan’s autonomy and sovereignty. The protests demonstrated the likely outcome of the ‘one country, two systems’ model, which Chinese authorities wish to use for Taiwan, as they did in Hong Kong. Taiwan’s Presidential election was highly linked to Hong Kong’s fate.
According to our latest poll in Taiwan, awareness among the Taiwanese public of the new National Security Law imposed on Hong Kong is very high. 79% of respondents say they have heard of the law, confirming it could indeed be a major political issue for the Taiwanese population.
When those who are aware of the law were asked whether they agreed or disagreed that the new law violates the human rights of Hong Kong residents, a strong majority (61%) agreed that it did. Only 15% disagree. These results would suggest that the Taiwanese public recognises the erosion of democracy in Hong Kong.
When asked about their views on the protests currently taking place in Hong Kong, 46% approve while 14% disapprove. However, a significant proportion (34%) neither approve nor disapprove, suggesting that many in Taiwan are wary of voicing their opinion on the issue.
There is also a partisan element to these results. 67% of 2020 Tsai voters approve of the protests, but only 22% of 2020 Han voters approve. 43% of these voters neither approve nor disapprove. The difference in support is perhaps because Han voters are more likely to prefer positive cross-strait relations, which would deteriorate if the Taiwanese government offered support to the protestors similar to that of the UK. Meanwhile, Tsai voters are more likely to see the fragility of Taiwanese democracy exposed by the crackdown in Hong Kong, and therefore support Hong Kong residents fighting to defend their own.
A plurality (40%) of Taiwanese respondents agree that their Government should offer support to protesters in Hong Kong, while 20% disagree. But over a third, 34%, neither agree nor disagree about whether the government should offer support, again perhaps suggesting a reticence among the public in Taiwan on this issue.
Among younger voters, who have been more engaged in protests supporting the Hong Kong protestors, support is far higher. Half of 18-to-24-year olds think the Taiwanese government should offer support to the protestors.
While President Tsai has declared support for Hong Kong’s democracy activists and opposition to Hong Kong’s National Security Law following her re-election, she has resisted calls for a refugee or political asylum law to allow Taiwan to take the growing stream of fleeing Hong Kong residents, as in the UK. Instead, the Taiwanese Government opened a special office on July 1 to assist Hong Kong residents seeking to move to Taiwan.
However, just 53% of respondents are aware of President Tsai’s moves to support those fleeing Hong Kong. This lack of awareness could be a sign that the opening of the office may have been viewed as largely symbolic rather than substantive, and therefore the public is rightfully not aware of any change in policy.
Of these 53% who are aware of the measures that have taken place, a majority (57%) approve, suggesting that if the policy were to gain more awareness instead of penetration it might be popular.
In fact, our recent poll in Hong Kong indicates Taiwan is the most popular destination for residents of Hong Kong considering emigration (42%). It is quite possible that Taiwan will experience significant migration which could impact public sentiment in Taiwan.