If Lee Bo had not “disappeared” on Dec. 30, the person to go missing might have been Jin Zhong, the editor of one of Hong Kong’s best China-watching magazines for 30 years and the publisher of 40 books on modern China, all banned in the mainland.
“He who has wealth speaks loudest, he who has power fears no-one” (財大氣粗，有恃無恐) was how Jin, editor of Open (開放) magazine, described the mentality of the Communist Party whose leaders receive red-carpet treatment in capitals all over the world.
“The purpose of this operation was to kill the chicken to frighten the monkey,” he said in an interview. “It is aimed at all Hong Kong people, not only those in publishing and journalism. It is already working. Major bookshops have stopped selling these sensitive books.”
He quoted President Xi Jinping as saying recently that a new situation had arisen in Hong Kong. “This statement is very important. He meant Hong Kong is more and more disobedient, with the Occupy Central movement, [the Legislative Council] not passing the [National People's Congress] bill to choose the chief executive and calls by some for independence.”
Lee was targeted because his company, Causeway Bay Books, has published many books about Chinese leaders and their private lives which have been very popular with mainland readers.
“In 2006/7, Lee himself wrote a biography of Xi, including material about Meng Xue, a beautiful television presenter who was Xi’s girlfriend when he was in Fujian. He was already married to Peng Liyuan [his current wife]. There is a photo of the two together, their expressions glacial. All the material came from public sources.
“The mainland now has three of the four directors of the Causeway Bay Books company. Only one, Lee’s wife, is still free in Hong Kong.”
Jin knows no more than anyone else about the details of how Lee went to the mainland or who carried out the operation.
Some have drawn a parallel with the assassination on Oct. 15, 1984 of Taiwan author Henry Liu, also known as Chiang Nan, in the garage of his home in Daly City, California.
He was killed by members of Taiwan’s Bamboo Triad, on the orders of Taiwan military intelligence.
Liu had written an unauthorized biography of then president Chiang Ching-kuo.
Chiang himself was outraged by the killing, which was done without his knowledge or authorization. It caused a scandal in the United States, that his government had organized an assassination on its soil.
Chiang ordered justice at home. Military courts in Taiwan convicted five men for responsibility of the murder, including vice-admiral Wong Hsi-lin, head of military intelligence; he was given a life sentence.
By this theory, the Hong Kong operation was carried out by people wishing to please President Xi but without his authorization.
“There was no need to tell the Chief Executive in advance,” said Jin. “Beijing fears nothing in Hong Kong. It feels it does not need it any more.”
He said China’s growing wealth and global power was making its rulers more arrogant. “Officials went to see [human rights lawyer] Gao Zhisheng and told him, ‘We have put Liu Xiaobo, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, in prison. When our leaders go abroad, who dares to speak of him?’
“The Soviet Communist Party collapsed, but why not the Chinese one, despite killing millions of its people? Its leaders are very cunning and intelligent and do things differently from the way in the west.”
He said Lee would be allowed to return to Hong Kong but not soon. “A certain time will elapse, for Hong Kong to finish venting its anger and criticism of the mainland. The five must be made to pay for their ‘crimes’. They made a lot of money.”
But he is not pessimistic about Hong Kong’s future. “Press freedom is diminishing but civil society is strong, with many parties. This has hurt part of the city but not the whole. The big shops will not sell the banned books but they will still be available here. The Communists do not dare to send a party secretary and turn Hong Kong into another Guangzhou,” he said.
Jin himself will not be in the city to experience its future. Next month, after 36 years in the city, he will move to New York to join his wife Stacey Mosher, a former journalist in Hong Kong. She has lived there since their daughter Sophia was born in 2002.
“I made the decision to unite with my family more than a year ago, so it has nothing to do with Lee Bo nor the Occupy Central Movement,” he said.
He closed the print edition of Open in 2014. Since then, it has been online.
He will continue to publish books and edit the magazine from New York.
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