HONG KONG — In Western democracies, they have been welcomed as refugees escaping Beijing’s tightening grip over Hong Kong.

In China, they have been denounced as violent criminals escaping punishment for their seditious activities.

A group of Hong Kong activists who have been granted asylum in the United States, Canada and Germany in recent weeks are the latest catalyst for deteriorating relations between China and the West. Western leaders have asserted that they will stand up for human rights in Hong Kong, while Chinese officials have rebuked the countries for what they called interference in Beijing’s affairs.

The protesters’ newly conferred status has made clear how profoundly Hong Kong has changed since China imposed a tough new security law this summer. For decades, the city had been a place of shelter for people escaping war, famine and political oppression in mainland China. Now the semiautonomous city has become a source of asylum seekers.

“The United States is a country that allows us freedom,” said Vicky Xiao, a 20-year-old university student from Hong Kong who is in California and seeking asylum in America.

Ms. Xiao said she feared being arrested if she returned to Hong Kong because she had taken part in the demonstrations that roiled the city last year. One of her former classmates who had also joined in the demonstrations in Hong Kong had been detained by the police, she said.