Last Saturday heart-rending pictures dominated the pages of Taiwan newspapers. One of the images was of a Hong Kong couple, both 60, who were killed in the earthquake that devastated the eastern city of Hualian on the night of February 6. A picture, taken during their lifetime, showed the two with a broad smile enjoying their retirement in Taiwan.
They had the profile of a major group of Hong Kong people who buy property in the island. Housing and living costs are substantially lower in Taiwan than in Hong Kong, and the island is friendly, safe, peaceful and Chinese-speaking.
The passing of the couple was in the minds of everyone, including Mary Lee, an agent selling a property of 10,000 units in the Taoyuan district of northern Taiwan that is aimed at Hong Kong people and Taiwanese living abroad, as well as local people.
“Please do not worry about earthquakes here,” she said. “Taoyuan is the safest area of Taiwan. It was not touched by the 9-21 earthquake (in 1999, which killed 2,300 people).” She pulled up on a computer screen a detailed plan of the building structure and its foundations, to show how it can safely withstand an earthquake.
Hers is one of many new properties being built next to a 51-km railway line from Taipei central station to Taoyuan Airport, the main international gateway to the island. The direct journey takes 35 minutes. The line opened in March 2017 after taking 20 years to build.
“This is very convenient for Hong Kong people. It is just 22 minutes from the airport,” said Lee. “Then it is only 22 minutes to Taipei central station.”
She listed other advantages for Hong Kong people. “After six months of continuous residence, you can apply for national health insurance (one of the most generous in Asia): you can keep a pet: and there is an upper limit on purchases by mainlanders of 10 percent. They can only reside for four months a year, can borrow a maximum of 50 percent of the purchase price and cannot resell for three years. These restrictions do not apply to Hong Kong people. We sold 37 units to Hong Kong buyers.
“Mainlanders are investigated to see if they have a background in the army, Communist Party or the government,” she said. Some get round this by using Taiwan people, a non-PRC passport or a company to buy on their behalf.
The cost for a unit of 30 ping (99 square meters) is NT$10.05 million (HK$2.8 million). That puts it at the lower end of the ladder around Taipei. Prices of properties close to the central railway station are NT$900,000-NT$1.55 million per ping: NT$460,000-620,000 per ping in Sanchong: NT$340,000-NT$450,000 per ping in Linkou.
In 2016, a record 1,273 Hong Kong and Macau people emigrated to Taiwan, of whom 1,086 were from Hong Kong.
Migrants praise the lower housing and living costs, cheap medical care, ease of adapting to a Chinese-speaking society similar to their own, good public order, and a lifestyle more relaxed than that of Hong Kong.
Peter and Freda So, the Hong Kong couple who died, were citizens of Canada. They were staying in the Beauty Stay Hotel in Hualien and were found in a tight embrace by the rescue team. They chose to avoid the bitter cold of Canadian winter by staying in Hualien, because of its mild climate, relaxed lifestyle, good food and beautiful landscape, between the Pacific Ocean and the central mountains.
Migrants say that the biggest headache is finding well-paid employment. Wages have been stagnant in Taiwan for a decade; thousands of qualified people seek work in the mainland, in foreign-, Taiwan-owned and local companies. As a result, many Hong Kong people choose not to work for Taiwan firms but open their own businesses – restaurants, coffee shops, guest houses and boutique shops. Or they buy property first – and retire to Taiwan later.
One reason pushing them to go is the ‘mainlandization’ of Hong Kong, Beijing’s increasing influence in public life and the daily immigration that dilutes the native Hong Kong population.
But Taiwan is not without political risk. Since President Tsai Ying-wen took office in January 2016, Beijing has cut off talks with her government because she does not recognise the ’9-2′ consensus. It has repeatedly warned it will attack Taiwan if it declares independence or if an American naval warship docks at a Taiwan port.
Raymond Wang, one of Lee’s colleagues, was asked about the possibility of such an attack. “It will not happen. The consequences for Beijing, especially international, are too serious. An attack would kill the thousands of mainlanders who live here. In addition, many in the PLA bitterly oppose Xi Jinping for his purges of the military. Can he count on their loyalty?”
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