China on Monday hit out at plans for a pro-democratic alliance between lawmakers in Taiwan and Hong Kong, warning that the move shows "collusion" between independence activists in the two regions, and will further heighten tensions across the Taiwan Strait.
Set up by a former leading figure in Taiwan's 2014 "Sunflower" student movement and a political science professor, the Taiwan Congressional Hong Kong Caucus was launched on Monday under by lawmakers in Taipei.
New Power Party (NPP) leader and alliance founder Huang Kuo-chang led protests against a secretive trade deal between the then-ruling Kuomintang nationalist party and Beijing, during which students occupied the island's parliament, the Legislative Yuan.
"The Beijing government has continuously suppressed Hong Kong’s fight for democracy, undermining human rights and freedom in Hong Kong," Huang said on Monday, launching the alliance.
The group will aim to "show Taiwan's concern for the democratic process in Hong Kong and to promote democratic exchanges between the two regions," local media reported.
But a spokesman for Beijing's Taiwan Affairs Office said the alliance represents "an attempt made by Taiwan’s independence forces to collude with Hong Kong’s independence advocates," Hong Kong's South China Morning Post reported.
He said the attempt would end badly for participants.
The alliance's founders are leading members of Taiwan's pro-independence NPP, and have attracted 18 lawmakers to join them in total.
The alliance's launch party was attended by former student leaders of Hong Kong's 2014 Occupy Central movement, lawmaker Nathan Law and activist Joshua Wong.
The Global Times newspaper, which has close ties to ruling Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece the People's Daily, quoted government diplomatic analysts as saying that the move would damage relations with Taiwan, over which Beijing claims sovereignty.
"Taiwan independence groups like the NPP like to use a referendum and democracy as excuses to incite social movements," the paper quoted Taiwan affairs analyst Zhu Songling as saying. "The organization is their latest move to promote independence and create instability in Hong Kong."
Mutual support network
Meanwhile, Beijing University professor Yin Hongbiao said "vigilance" would be needed.
"The new organization probably indicates a collusion of Taiwan and Hong Kong pro-independence activists," Yin was quoted as saying.
But Hong Kong and Taiwan lawmakers denied colluding over political independence, saying they are merely forming a mutual support network.
"Only Hong Kong people can change Hong Kong … but we can support by sharing Taiwan’s experiences and history," ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lawmaker Wang Ting-Yu told reporters at a news conference that was also attended by Hong Kong lawmakers Raymond Chan, Nathan Law and Eddie Chu, as well as former student leaders of the 2014 Occupy Central movement, Joshua Wong and Alex Chow.
"We face the suppression of democracy and freedom from the same regime," Law, who formed the post-Occupy political party Demosisto with Wong, said. "Taiwan and Hong Kong should support each other."
Wong also denied that he was advocating independence for Hong Kong, which has seen the erosion of its traditional freedoms since the 1997 handover to China.
"We just hope to work with different parties who share the same values of democracy and freedom with us," he said.
Taiwan began its transition to democracy in January 1988, starting with direct elections to the legislature in the early 1990s and culminating in the first direct election of the island's president in 1996.
Recent opinion polls indicate that there is broad political support for de facto self-rule in Taiwan, where the majority of voters identify as Taiwanese rather than Chinese.
But while the Chinese Communist Party has never ruled the island, Beijing regards it as part of Chinese territory and has threatened to invade if Taiwan seeks formal independence.
Reported by Chung Kwang-cheng for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.