Hong Kong Publishers Reportedly Being Kidnapped by Chinese Authorities and Taken to the Mainland

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A Hong Kong lawmaker said Sunday he believes Chinese security officers kidnapped five publishing company employees who have gone missing in the city, possibly because of a planned book about the former love life of President Xi Jinping.

The five work for a publishing house known for producing books critical of the Chinese government.

The disappearances add to growing unease that freedoms in the semi-autonomous Chinese city are being eroded.

Under Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, it enjoys freedom of speech and Chinese law enforcers have no right to operate in the city.

It is unclear where the men are or how they went missing.

– From the AFP article: Missing Hong Kong Booksellers “Working on Book on Xi’s Love Life”

For several years now, I’ve periodically observed that China’s increasingly aggressive crackdown on dissent serves as a harbinger of far more difficult times ahead. The thinking goes that if anyone is privy to the severe fragility of the country’s economic situation, it would be Chinese leadership. As such, desperate moves by Chinese leadership should foretell drastically worse economic and social conditions.

As an example, here’s an excerpt from this summer’s post, Chinese Authorities Arrest Over 100 Human Rights Activists and Lawyers in Desperate Crackdown on Dissent:

While China doesn’t have any illusion of democracy to begin with, that doesn’t make the situation any less significant. While media attention has been focused on the popping of China’s stock market bubble, what has been far more interesting is the government’s terrified response. It has simply put, entered full on panic mode. Freezing trading in a large percentage of listed equities, and even threatening to arrest so-called “malicious short sellers.”

I have long stated that the situation in China is much more fragile than anyone cares to recognize or admit. I continue to think revolution/regime change in China presents a real risk in the years ahead, and I think the Communist Party is well aware of it. This is precisely why the heavy hammer of government is coming down upon political (and economic) dissent with increased force.

The scramble to crack down on dissent has become so intense, Chinese authorities seem to be now exerting illegal force against residents of Hong Kong. Of course, this story is long in the making, as the massive protest that broke out a little over a year ago known as the “umbrella revolution,” was in fact a protest against Beijing’s moves to ensure that Hong Kong leadership remain loyal puppets to the authorities on the mainland. As the Guardian explained at the time:

Hong Kong, a former British colony of 7 million people, has been governed under a “one country, two systems” framework since it was handed back to Chinese control in 1997. The principle is simple in theory — Beijing is responsible for the city’s defence and foreign affairs; Hong Kong enjoys limited self-governance and civil liberties, including an independent judiciary and unrestricted press.

Its top political post – that of chief executive – is chosen by a “nominating committee” of 1,200 people, most of them from pro-Beijing elites. Yet when Beijing regained control over the city, it promised that the region would be able to elect its top leader by universal suffrage by 2017. The group guiding the current protests – set up 18 months ago by two professors and a baptist minister under the banner Occupy Central with Love and Peace — threatened to paralyse the city’s central business district if Beijing broke its word.

Nobody knew when, or if, the protest would occur, but in August Beijing passed a reform framework to stipulate universal suffrage on its own terms – only two or three committee-vetted candidates who “love the country” would be allowed to run. Activists considered this the last straw. Students began a class boycott last Monday and, galvanised by a city-wide surge in support, staged a large-scale protest outside of the city government headquarters on Friday night. Occupy Central mobilised on Sunday. The rest is unfolding as you read.

So the writing has been on the wall for quite some time. Emboldened, it appears Chinese authorities are now simply kidnapping people in Hong Kong they deem to be subversive.

Bloomberg reports:

The disappearance of a Hong Kong-based publisher of books critical of China’s Communist Party is fueling concerns that tactics used to limit dissent on the mainland are being exported to the former British colony.

Lee Bo, part owner of Causeway Bay Books, was reported missing Friday by his wife, who said her last contact with him was from a telephone number from Shenzhen, across the mainland border. Hong Kong police have asked their Chinese counterparts about the 65-year-old bookseller, who disappeared from Hong Kong several months after four others related to the store vanished.

Concerns about encroachment on Hong Kong’s freedoms under President Xi Jinping sparked the student-led democracy protests that paralyzed parts of the city for months in 2014. Since coming to power, Xi has embarked on a campaign on the mainland to tighten the party’s grip on power that has included secret detentions and convictions for spreading information deemed dangerous.

“The possible intrusion into Hong Kong by law enforcement agencies in China would shatter the sense of security that is provided by One Country, Two Systems,” said Albert Ho, a lawmaker and chairman of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China, referring to the blueprint for Hong Kong’s autonomy. “If that sense of security is being shattered, then the underlying confidence in ‘One Country, Two Systems’ would be torn apart.”

Lee’s bookstore was popular among tourists from mainland China as a source of salacious books about the country’s elite banned on the mainland. He was last seen leaving a warehouse on Hong Kong island used by the company.

Lee’s wife approached local police on Monday and withdrew a request for help, the South China Morning Post reported, citing a government official it didn’t identify. Taiwan’s Central News Agency also published a handwritten letter said to be faxed from Lee to a bookstore colleague. In it, he said he took his “own way” to China to assist in an investigation that might take some time.

Yes, of course. Totally normal to leave a warehouse and then disappear to the Chinese mainland in order to “help with an investigation,” without telling your wife first.

Lee’s case is resonating among Hong Kong’s pro-democracy activists, who seized city streets for almost three months in 2014 after China unveiled a plan to elect the city’s leader from a pool of candidates vetted by Beijing. A video in which Agnes Chow — a member of the pro-democracy student group Scholarism — described Lee’s disappearance as a “white terror incident” has garnered more than 800,000 views.

Xi has been cracking down on dissent in China since he took over as party chief in November 2012, overseeing a more restrictive ideological environment. In the most recent summer, dozens of members of the so-called rights-defense movement were detained over allegations they attempted to manipulate court cases.

Lee’s disappearance came after four of his colleagues vanished within days of each other. Bookstore manager Lam Wing-kei; general manager of the publishing house Lui Bo; and business manager, Cheung Jiping, went missing in October while visiting the mainland, the South China Morning Post reported. Gui Minhai, a co-owner with Lee of the publisher Mighty Current, disappeared from his apartment in Thailand the same month.

The reach of China’s law enforcement agencies has riled authorities in other countries. Australia’s government last year expressed “deep concerns” after China sent two police officers to Melbourne in late 2014 without permission to question a suspected economic fugitive. The Obama administration has requested that China recall agents pursuing Chinese corruption suspects in the U.S., the New York Times reported in August.

How do you say panic in Mandarin?

The AFP adds some additional tidbits to the developing story:

A Hong Kong lawmaker said Sunday he believes Chinese security officers kidnapped five publishing company employees who have gone missing in the city, possibly because of a planned book about the former love life of President Xi Jinping.

The five work for a publishing house known for producing books critical of the Chinese government.

The disappearances add to growing unease that freedoms in the semi-autonomous Chinese city are being eroded.

Under Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, it enjoys freedom of speech and Chinese law enforcers have no right to operate in the city.

It is unclear where the men are or how they went missing.

Ho said it was “outrageous” for Lee to have disappeared in the city.

“We have a reason to believe he was politically abducted and illegally transferred to the mainland,” he said.

Lee’s wife said Saturday her husband told her he was “assisting in an investigation” in a phone call after he failed to return home for dinner Wedesday.

She reported him missing to police Friday and said the call he made to her was from a number in the neighbouring Chinese city of Shenzhen.

“He said he wouldn’t be back so soon and he was assisting in an investigation,” she said.

Agnes Chow of leading student campaign group Scholarism appealed to the international community for help.

“I hope everyone in the world who believes in universal values of freedom and human rights could stand up,” she said in a Facebook post.

For related articles, see:

Ranking the Peasants – China Introduces Orwellian “Citizen Scores”

Chinese Authorities Arrest Over 100 Human Rights Activists and Lawyers in Desperate Crackdown on Dissent

Why China’s Attack on Bitcoin is a Sign of Weakness

In Liberty,
Michael Krieger

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