The threat of Chinese military intervention in Hong Kong could spur locals to seek a new life in nearby countries – and Australia is among their most likely destinations.
Academics watching the progress of an uprising in Hong Kong are predicting that city residents would head for Australian shores – by whichever means possible – if violence by security forces escalated further than last week’s shooting of a teenage demonstrator.
The same fear-driven migration surge occurred after the massacre of students by the Chinese Communist Party at Tiananmen Square 30 years ago.
Already, migration agents have reported a rise in the number of visa inquiries from wealthy Hong Kong residents.
But others without the means to apply through the front door may look to more drastic ways to flee the Chinese-controlled island.
University of Sydney researcher Dr Amanda Tattersall has been interviewing activists and leaders of the pro-democracy movement that has been dominating the streets of Hong Kong for seven months.
“If there is a severe violent crackdown, people will do whatever they can – including being refugees,” Dr Tattersall told The New Daily.
“They will get on boats and do the same thing anyone would do in fear of their life and flee, and one country they would seek to go to is Australia.”
Dr Tattersall said migration was only an option for the wealthy middle class, and that most people would be forced to do whatever they could to escape.
“Anyone who is in the working class is not going to be able to access the resources to be able to get a visa, or a British or Australian passport,” she said.
“It’s too shrill to talk about it being some military crackdown at the moment, but we’re seeing an escalation and we know the history.
“This is the time for the international community to act before it’s too late, rather than sitting around waiting for blood to spill.”
So far, Germany has granted asylum to two Hong Kong protesters as the situation becomes increasingly volatile.
This week Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said China could step in with military intervention soon to prevent more protests.
And as the situation worsens, more and more locals say they want to escape the chaos for good.
Nearly half of Hong Kong’s population (47 per cent) have thought about migrating, according to research by YouGov.
Of those single, university-educated people are the most likely to migrate, with a quarter likely to do so in the next three years.
Taiwan is top of their list (50 per cent), followed by Australia (30 per cent), Canada (23 per cent) and Japan (20 per cent).
“It is unsurprising to see that a significant amount of Hong Kongers are thinking of migrating recently,” YouGov Omnibus’ Greater China general manager Cindy Chan said.
“What is interesting is that Taiwan is now the top migration destination, ahead of destinations like Australia, Canada and the United States.”
Dr Tattersall said Taiwan was likely their No.1 pick because it was more politically independent than Hong Kong from the People’s Republic of China.
“There’s a real sense of ‘we’re all in this together’ among democracy activists in the two countries,” Dr Tattersall said.
“Hong Kong is fighting for greater democracy and its best friend in that fight is Taiwan.”