Student leaders and anti-government protesters are told they are heroes, but in the dark night of the soul, some may well wonder if they are being used as pawns by outside powers. This was what prompted the cri de coeur from Keith Fong Chung-yin, president of Hong Kong Baptist University Student Union, who has accused Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and her ruling Democratic Progressive Party of “only wanting to exchange Hongkongers’ sacrifices for Taiwanese people’s votes”. The bitter Facebook post prompted a rare denial from Tsai herself , after presidential election rival Han Kuo-yu of the Kuomintang repeated the charge that she was using the civil unrest in Hong Kong as a “tool for votes”. Tsai is widely expected to secure a second term in the January 11 presidential election, partly thanks to her appeal to the island’s pro-independence voters by exploiting Hong Kong’s trouble as a failure of Chinese rule. Taiwan’s KMT accuses president of ‘paying lip service’ to Hong Kong The weekend controversy generated so much heat that Fong had to apologise, but not before accusing people of twisting the meaning of his message. He clearly didn’t anticipate the backlash from Tsai’s supporters and pro-Beijing critics alike. The gist of Fong’s criticism is that while Tsai and her party have been happy to mouth support for Hong Kong’s protesters, they have done nothing to introduce legislation to set up an immigration mechanism to take in Hongkongers seeking political asylum. The charge is true. Voicing support for Hong Kong protesters costs Tsai and her government nothing. But letting them in as political refugees? That’s a big can of worms to risk opening. Taiwan is in a tight spot, especially given its ill-defined international status. A bill dealing with refugees has been languishing in the legislature and will expire after the election. The original legislative intention was to accept foreigners and stateless people fleeing wars or natural disasters. Hong Kong protesters won’t qualify. Moreover, as a political movement and ideology, “the Republic of China” in theory includes Hong Kong and Macau as its territories as far as “one China” goes, however one interprets it. Having such a refugee law could therefore have tricky implications for the status of the island and cross-strait relations. Any politician in Tsai’s shoes would not want to pay a price or take a risk if she could get all the benefits for free. Fong and his young comrades are learning how the real world works.