Taiwan's president voiced her support for Sunday's mass protests in Hong Kong against plans to allow extraditions to mainland China, while warning against China's "one country, two systems" plan for the democratic island.
"Anyone concerning themselves with freedom, democracy and human rights around the world will also be following the march, and will also be very supportive of the people of Hong Kong," Tsai Ing-wen, who is now on the campaign trail for elections in 2020, said.
"Taiwan is no exception, and we also support the people of Hong Kong in their pursuit of freedom, democracy and human rights," she said. "Freedom is like the air: you only become aware of its existence when you start to suffocate."
Tsai called on Taiwan's 23 million people to keep a close eye on events in Hong Kong, and to support the city.
Many in Taiwan point to Hong Kong's experience of ever-encroaching interference from the ruling Chinese Communist Party as ample proof that Beijing's plan to "unify" with Taiwan, which has never been ruled by the Chinese Communist Party, is to be resisted at all costs.
"I emphasize once again that one country, two systems, is absolutely unacceptable to Taiwan," Tsai said. "Once we accept one country, two systems, we will lose the right to defend freedom, democracy and human rights, and lose the right to decide on our own future."
"Protecting the sovereignty of this country is something that must be done every day," she said, adding that the 1911 Republic of China on Taiwan is a sovereign and independent country.
In a Jan. 2 speech titled "Letter to our Taiwan compatriots," Chinese President Xi Jinping said that Taiwan must be "unified" with China, and refused to rule out the use of military force to annex the island.
But Tsai has repeatedly said that Taiwan's 23 million population have no wish to give up their sovereignty, a view that is borne out by repeated opinion polls.
Opposition figures agree
The opposition Kuomintang (KMT) mayor of Kaohsiung, Han Kuo-yu, who campaigned on a pro-business platform of closer ties with China, agreed.
"I would like to express my unquestionable determination to defend the Republic of China, Taiwan's democratic system and its lifestyle," Han said in the statement.
Han said it was clear that the "one country, two systems" plan wasn't working for Hong Kong. "Do we even have to talk about it? Everyone knows [it doesn't work]," he said.
But he stopped short of supporting the Hong Kong protesters.
"I don't know: I have no idea," he said.
As the politicians voiced their concern, students gathered outside the Hong Kong Economic, Trade and Cultural Office in Taipei to show solidarity with the Hong Kong protesters.
Hong Kong student activist Ho Wing-chan said his group strongly condemned the use of tear gas, batons and pepper spray in clashes outside the city's legislature at the tail end of the protests on Sunday night and in the early hours of Monday morning, saying it recalled the police violence of the 2014 democracy movement.
"We have not forgotten that the police committed many acts of violence against the people of Hong Kong during the Umbrella movement," Ho said.
"[We call on the Hong Kong] government and the police to show restraint, and to stop using violence to abuse their power and make a mockery of the rule of law," he said.
Taiwan University student Chang Yi-chiao said many had turned out in solidarity because of concern for Taiwan's democratic way of life, not because they feel Chinese.
"We stand with Hong Kong people not because we are Chinese, but because we also want freedom and democracy," Chang said. "But Taiwanese are different from Chinese people ... We believe that Hong Kong people have enough courage and hope to maintain their political system. This situation isn't hopeless."
Chang said there are already growing concerns in Taiwan about the infiltration of Beijing propaganda into the country's media reporting, however.
"Today, China’s Wenhui Po said that ... not everyone is against the [extradition amendments]," Chang told RFA. "We are seeing media reports like this that distort the facts start to appear in Taiwan's media. We don't want Taiwan's media to end up the same as the Chinese media."
Grim warning to Taiwan
Lin Feifan, a former leader of Taiwan's 2014 Sunflower movement that occupied the Legislative Yuan in opposition to closer trade ties with China, issued a grim warning to Taiwan.
"It's not so much today, Hong Kong, tomorrow, Taiwan, but today Hong Kong, today Taiwan," Lin said, citing the case of Taiwanese democracy activist Lee Ming-cheh, who is serving a prison sentence in China for subversion after working with Chinese pro-democracy groups online from Taiwan. "If Hong Kong is facing this evil lawtoday, then we will suffer too."
"We need more Taiwanese friends to stand on the front line," Lin said. "We must send a clear message to the international community, to Hong Kong, to the Chinese government and to the Taiwanese government: We know, and we care."
Former Hong Kong bookseller Lam Wing-kei, who fled Hong Kong to Taiwan for fear of being redetained and taken back to China, said he doesn't expect the sheer size of Sunday's protest to deter Beijing from its goal.
"You can see from the reaction of the Hong Kong government that the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance [amendments] weren't proposed by the Hong Kong government, but are being implemented at Beijing's behest," Lam said.
"The Hong Kong government no longer represents the people of Hong Kong, nor will it speak up for the people of Hong Kong or fight for Hong Kong people's human rights and personal safety," he said.
"They no longer care. When they have forced this law through, then the people of Hong Kong will effectively have a potential decree from the mainland Chinese authorities hanging over their heads," he said.
Reported by Hwang Chun-mei and Hsia Hsiao-hwa for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.