Taiwan on Thursday invited Hong Kong residents whose studies have been disrupted by university closures or fear of arrest after five months of pro-democracy protests to continue their studies on the democratic island.
"Students wishing to transfer to study in Taiwan will have various visiting options ... including short-term research and academic exchange and visiting scholar programs, particularly at the current time," Chiu Chui-cheng, deputy head of Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council (MAC), told reporters.
"Those who want to come and study for a full degree in Taiwan will be dealt with under an additional quota, so they won't affect academic resources or advancement opportunities for Taiwanese students," he said.
Taiwan's ministry of education allows for an increase in recruited student numbers of 10 percent for each university, Chiu added.
So far, National Taiwan University (NTU), Chiao Tung University, Tsing Hua University and Chengchi University, all of which are public colleges, have begun accepting applications from Hong Kong students as visiting scholars.
Chou Chiapei, vice president of NTU, said there has been a 60 percent spike in applications from Hongkongers to his university in one day, and added that they didn't plan to introduce any quota yet.
"The numbers are rising every day," Chou told reporters. "The total number of applicants today was 562, of whom 289 are nationals of this country, and 168 are from Hong Kong."
"There were 105 applicants from Hong Kong yesterday ... that number has jumped by 60 percent [in one day], so there is a clearly defined demand," he said.
Chou said NTU is relaxing its admission procedures for Hongkongers whose universities have shut their doors early after riot police besieged a number of major campuses, sparking pitched battles with protesters.
"These students are regarded as temporary visitors for the rest of this semester," he said. "They can also apply for official enrollment next semester."
The incoming students will pay a very small registration fee, and then be free to audit classes, but will receive no credits for those classes, Chou said.
National Sun Yat-sen University also issued a statement saying it would accept Hong Kong students whose universities had shut down.
"The University can provide 250 beds in our student dormitories," it said in a statement on its website. "We also welcome university faculty members from Hong Kong as short-term visiting scholars."
The offers came amid widespread reports that former U.K. consular employee Simon Cheng, who was detained by Chinese police in a Hong Kong railway terminus and tortured for several days in August, had taken refuge in Taiwan.
Chiu declined to comment on Cheng's current whereabouts, but said the treatment meted out to him was a violation of his human rights.
"Based on the need to protect individual privacy, we won't comment on individuals in Taiwan," Chiu said. He said any Hongkonger arriving in Taiwan would be dealt with in accordance with current laws and regulations, as well as humanitarian principles.
Videotaped 'confessions' in China
Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece the People's Daily on Thursday published videotaped "confessions" made by Cheng during his detention in Shenzhen.
Lai Chung-chiang, covenor of the educational body Economic Democracy Union, said the use of videotaped "confessions" marks China out as a country that has no respect for human rights.
"No democratic country would do this," Lai said. "A criminal suspect has basic human rights and legal rights during the processes of criminal investigation, prosecution and trial."
"This is nothing but a tool for political struggle, and not a fair judicial process," he said. "The real point is that you have opposed China ... you have trodden on its toes, so they take revenge."
Taiwan began a transition to democracy following the death of Chiang Ching-kuo in January 1988, starting with direct elections to the legislature in the early 1990s and culminating in the first direct election of a president, Lee Teng-hui, in 1996.
It has never been controlled by the Chinese Communist Party, nor formed part of the People's Republic of China.
Beijing wants to rule Taiwan under the "one country, two systems" concept used to take back the former colonial cities of Hong Kong and Macau, and has refused to rule out annexing the island by force, but President Tsai Ing-wen has repeatedly said that Taiwan's 23 million people have no wish to give up their sovereignty.
Tsai has been an outspoken critic of the Hong Kong government since the anti-extradition, pro-democracy protest movement gripped the city in early June, and has repeatedly warned that Taiwan could suffer a similar loss of freedom and democracy if it entertains China's plan.
Reported by Hsia Hsiao-hwa for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Chung Kuang-cheng for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.