Hong Kong pro-democracy leader Joshua Wong says an assault on him and fellow rights activist Nathan Law at the territory's airport was a co-ordinated attack by pro-Beijing elements angry at his group's calling for more self-determination.
"Behind the attacks I believe is just a pro-China force or pro-Beijing force, which hopes to show its influence or the power to manipulate the political dynamics in Hong Kong and Taiwan, " Mr Wong told The Irish Times.
Mr Wong is the 20-year-old secretary-general of Hong Kong’s Demosisto party. He rose to fame as a student activist leader during the 2014 Hong Kong democracy protests with the Scholarism movement.
Mr Wong and Mr Law travelled to Taiwan with fellow lawmakers Edward Yiu and Eddie Chu for talks with Taiwan's pro-independence body, the New Power Party, raising hackles in Beijing. They were greeted by irate pro-China protesters in Taipei as they arrived for the forum.
Mr Wong and Mr Law suffered minor injuries during the incident back at Hong Kong airport and police said they had detained two people over the attack.
The last few weeks have seen Taiwan catapulted into the centre of regional events, after Donald Trump angered Beijing by taking a congratulatory telephone call from Tsai Ing-wen, the independence-minded leader of self-ruled Taiwan, and the US president-elect suggested he does not necessarily feel bound to honour the "one China" policy, under which Washington does not recognise Taiwan as a sovereign state.
The Beijing government believes Ms Tsai's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) wants to push for the formal independence of Taiwan, to which the KMT Nationalists fled after losing the civil war to the communists in 1949.
China insists Taiwan is part of China and since the Trump phone call there have been increasingly vocal calls in the state media for China to take the island back by force.
Under the Basic Law introduced when Hong Kong reverted to Chinese rule in 1997, the territory is guaranteed a high degree of autonomy, but a series of events, such as the apparent rendition of several booksellers with anti-mainland views by Chinese security agents, has caused fear that the “one country, two systems” model may be under threat.
Mr Chu told local media of a “globalised, anti-democratic violent network” controlled by Beijing.
Mr Law (23) goes to court next month as the Hong Kong government tries to disqualify him from taking up his seat in Hong Kong’s legislative council because of the manner in which he took the oath of office. The government said Mr Law changed the tone on the phrase “People’s Republic of China” to make it sound like a question.
Two other pro-independence legislators were disqualified for the manner in which they took the oath last year.
“Before this democratically elected lawmaker may be disqualified, we just hope to let people know that these gangsters are just trying to suppress the lawmakers. The lawmakers being attacked in the airport is really proof of the threat of China towards democracy and democratically elected leaders,” said Mr Wong, who was too young to stand for election.
Late last year, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office warned against activists in Hong Kong and Taiwan trying to link up.
“A small coterie of Taiwan independence forces are trying in vain to link up with Hong Kong independence [forces] to split the country, which cannot succeed,” spokesman An Fengshan said.
"It's just like that saying 'On this tiny globe, a few flies dash themselves against the wall'," she said, quoting a 1963 poem by China's founding father, Mao Zedong.