Among hundreds of people gathered at the Vancouver Art Gallery last weekend to protest against the Russian invasion of Ukraine, several held signs reading “Hong Kongers stand with Ukraine.” Nearby, another was waving the flag of Taiwan.
Ever since Russian troops poured across the border, many Canadian Hong Kongers and Taiwanese have actively demonstrated their support for Ukraine. They mobilize their compatriots to join peace rallies, they raise funds to help Ukrainians, they share information online or in-person to bring awareness of Moscow’s assault.
“It’s a fight for freedom and democracy,” said Michael Chen, vice-president of the Taiwanese-Canadian Association. “Ukraine, Hong Kong, Taiwan … they’re all part of a democratic, rule-based society.”
Over the past two years, China has increased military pressure against Taiwan as it acts on commitments to bring the self-governed island under its control, by force if necessary.
It has led to growing unease among people with ties to Taiwan.
“In general, we are all very concerned,” Mr. Chen said, adding many Canadian Taiwanese still have families back at home.
Many people in the Taiwan and Hong Kong communities see parallels in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Mr. Chen, based in Toronto, said members of his community have mused about how or if Taiwan and its people could defend themselves against a Chinese missile attack, and what kind of help overseas Taiwanese could provide.
He said although the situations in Ukraine and Taiwan are different, the “general similarities” have brought people from the communities together, and Canadian Taiwanese want to stand in solidary with Canadian Ukrainians.
Hong Kong Canadians, too, empathize with the people of Ukraine, said Leo Shin, associate professor of history and Asian studies and convenor of the Hong Kong Studies Initiative at the University of British Columbia.
“For many Hong Kong Canadians, the Russian invasion of Ukraine is the latest reminder that the people of Hong Kong are not alone in having to confront the relentless assaults of an authoritarian regime,” he said.
The former British colony was once considered a bastion of freedom. But Beijing has overseen a sweeping crackdown in the semi-autonomous Chinese city in response to the widespread and increasingly violent anti-government protests of 2019. That includes the imposition of a national security law, which authorities have used to regain control and crack down on opposition figures and institutions.
“What happened to Hong Kong in the last few years made many Hong Kongers become more aware of acts of oppression happening around the world,” said Edward Liu, who co-organized a rally supporting Ukraine in Richmond last Saturday. “The Russian invasion of Ukraine, an independent sovereign nation, is a direct attack on all people who believe in peace and freedom.”
A pinned post on the Facebook page of the group Winnipeg Hong Kong Concern calls for urgent help for Ukraine and its people.
“Supporting Ukraine is supporting yourself. Ukrainians are like Hong Kongers, they also love freedom, defend their homeland and dignity,” the post reads.
Bill Chu, founder of Canadians for Reconciliation and a Canadian Hong Konger residing in B.C., said Hong Kongers in this country want to further disassociate themselves from Beijing and its backers by being vocal about their support for Ukraine.
Although China has faced intense international pressure to condemn Russia’s invasion, its Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, said on Monday that the relationship between Beijing and Moscow is “rock solid.”
Comments in favour of the war and of Russian President Vladimir Putin have emerged on China’s social-media platforms, such as Weibo.
Josephine Chiu-Duke, professor of Chinese intellectual history in UBC’s Asian studies department, said Hong Kongers feel strongly about Ukraine because they understand repression from authoritarian regimes directly and personally.
She said although she understands Taiwan and Ukraine share the feelings of being “bullied by bigger powers,” she stressed their histories are completely different.
Ukraine became an independent state after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. But “People’s Republic of China has never, even one day, ruled Taiwan,” she said. “No similarity in that regard.”
Beijing also discourages comparison between the two, but for different reasons. Mr. Wang said on Monday that the island has always been part of China and is entirely a domestic matter, but the situation in Ukraine is a dispute between two countries.
With a report from Reuters
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