19 November 2019
The freedoms that Hong Kong enjoy don't mean much if mainland agents can cross the border and grab anyone they want. Photos: HK Police, PictureAlliance
The freedoms that Hong Kong enjoy don't mean much if mainland agents can cross the border and grab anyone they want. Photos: HK Police, PictureAlliance

Beijing warning: You can run but you can’t hide in luxe hotels

The disappearance of bookstore manager Lee Bo and his four associates should remind us that Beijing’s authority extends beyond the mainland border.

Remember the case of Hong Kong-based journalist Ching Cheong?

Ching, the chief China correspondent of Singapore’s Straits Times, went to the mainland in April 2005 to obtain a recorded interview of Zhao Ziyang (趙紫陽), the late general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party who was put under house arrest by Deng Xiaoping for sympathizing with student protesters during the 1989 Tiananmen Square crisis.

Ching’s family and colleagues lost contact with him, and the next time people heard of him was four months later when the state news agency Xinhua reported that he had been arrested by Guangzhou national security agents on charges of passing state secrets to Taiwan.

In August 2006 Ching was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment, but he vehemently denied all the accusations against him. He was released on bail and allowed to return to Hong Kong in 2008.

What Ching had gone through made many believe that while it was foolhardy for anyone to challenge or defy the Communist Party’s authority in the mainland, Hong Kong still offered a safe haven for journalists, writers and publishers.

Ten years later, the apparent abduction of the Causeway Bay Books manager in broad daylight and the serial disappearance of his associates have shattered that illusion.

Citing a paper carried in the May 2005 issue of the mainland academic journal Criminal Research, renowned newspaper commentator Joseph Lian Yizheng, in a recent column, found proof of the excesses of Chinese agents carrying out illegal and unauthorized operations in Hong Kong.

The paper, which came out roughly at the same time as Ching’s arrest, presented a detailed case study and stressed that Chinese law enforcement organs have no authority to arrest and detain suspects or search their homes in a separate, non-affiliated jurisdiction.

Yet mainland agents, with their inadequate knowledge of the “one country, two systems” principle, thought that crossing the boundary to Hong Kong to hunt for anyone they wanted – even without prior notice or the presence of local police officers – was a matter of course after the 1997 reunification.

Here are a few other cases revealed in the paper:

In June 1999 a Chinese officer at a provincial public security department asked a local police superintendent to trace and arrest fugitives who may have entered Hong Kong.

The local superintendent acceded to the request, and only after an application was filed to surrender the fugitive to the mainland, was he admonished by his supervisors. Hong Kong and China have no extradition treaty.

In June 2002 agents of a mainland municipal public security bureau entered Hong Kong as tourists and forced a suspect to obtain objects stored in a bank to be presented in a mainland court as exhibits.

Local police were not informed. The suspect sought help from the bank’s security, saying he was kidnapped. The agents, knowing their operation was not authorized in the first place, had to flee the site before someone called the police.

Other fragmentary reports include a 2014 incident in which the marine police intercepted trespassers on a speedboat who turned out to be mainland customs officials, and another case that happened in 2004, when several mainland agents, said to be on a “special mission”, were stopped and questioned by local police officers in Mont Davis.

In 2014, it was also rumored that Beijing dispatched numerous national security personnel across the border to monitor the Occupy movement and look for evidence of treasonous acts against the pan-democrats.

The string of incidents has sent jitters down the spine of Hong Kong residents, who may now have realized that they are not out of the reach of Chinese law enforcers.

Beijing’s debunking of Hong Kong’s status as a safe haven has also demolished the feeling of security among wealthy cadres or businessmen who fled the mainland to hide in the city’s luxury hotels such as the Four Seasons.

Many of them fled in a hurry after their political allies were entrapped in the party’s crackdown against corruption back home.

The Hong Kong Economic Journal comments: If some Hong Kong booksellers could be grabbed and whisked away to the mainland as Beijing no longer feels bound by its pledges regarding the city’s autonomy, these suspects and fugitives from the mainland may also be made to disappear at any time. 

Now we know that not only the “one country, two systems” principle is in peril, the city’s luxury property and high-end hospitality sector may also have to take a battering.

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A cool place to escape political heat in mainland (Nov. 28, 2014)

EJ Insight writer