Date
25 January 2017
Lam Wing-kee showed guts when he answered questions from the media last week and underlined his defiance of Beijing by taking part in a protest march (above) over the weekened. Photo: Reuters
Lam Wing-kee showed guts when he answered questions from the media last week and underlined his defiance of Beijing by taking part in a protest march (above) over the weekened. Photo: Reuters

Booksellers saga: Beijing tries to put the cat back in the bag

It’s quite clear that the Communist Party of China was behind the disappearance of the five booksellers from Causeway Bay Books who went missing last year.

We’re only now beginning to see in detail the party’s machinations in the incident thanks to Lam Wing-kee who has come out to tell his story.

Lam showed guts when he answered questions at a press conference last week and underlined his defiance of Beijing by taking part in a protest march over the weekend.

There’s little about the booksellers’ story we don’t already know but for the most part, it was Beijing’s version, with plenty of empty spaces in it.

Lam’s decision to corroborate what has been public knowledge gave the story a beginning, a middle and an end.

It also gave us a glimpse into a power struggle that is shaking up the party — a long-running tug-of-war between hardliners and moderates who are determined to take the party in a certain direction.

However, even as more details are coming to hand, we are hearing another side to the story.

When Lam said fellow-bookseller Lee Bo was coerced by the Chinese authorities into mouthing the official story line in order to protect his family, the latter quickly came back to refute him.

Lee is being helped by Sing Tao Daily, whose eagerness to publicise his denial is raising suspicions it is pandering to Beijing.

Sing Tao interviewed Lam’s girlfriend in China and came up with damning information about his purported cheating and attempts to get her into the book selling business in the mainland for his benefit.

Lam probably expected this, but he could not have anticipated this kind of backlash from his own colleague.

He will now have to get used to being maligned in the Beijing-friendly media. His personal conduct will be subject to more intense scrutiny.

To be sure, Beijing is not done writing the script, or rewriting it after Lam’s revelations. It has a bigger reason to end it on its own terms.

In media interviews on Sunday, Lam said he would not try to refute any of his colleagues who contradicted his account of the incident, adding they have family in the mainland who could be exposed to danger.

But 6,000 people who marched with Lam on Saturday tell us that there’s more than a handful of us who believe him.

From the beginning, most Hongkongers’ concern transcended the personal safety of the five men. It struck at the heart of freedom of expression, freedom of movement and rule of law.

All three Hong Kong core values — which interestingly have been eroded, along with other pillars of our society, with Beijing’s tinkering with “one country, two systems” — were thrown by the wayside. 

Mainland Chinese law was brought to bear on the booksellers in contravention of the Basic Law, which was designed to prevent overreach by the central authorities.

No one knows how far China will go to clamp its own system on Hong Kong but we know that some mainland officials are not above taking matters personally. 

Lam is getting the kind of treatment outspoken pop star Denise Ho is receiving from China for her alleged support of independence for Hong Kong and Tibet.

But while Ho merely offended an officious state media, Lam was made out to be a criminal engaged in an illegal business by the central authorities.

Somewhere in that characterization is the unspoken charge that Lam and his colleagues have been publishing books critical of the political elite in Beijing.

Lam can take heart from the fact that much of the world knows the story, which is why Beijing could conceivably move on him with caution.

But that’s little comfort to ordinary Hongkongers who are left wondering if they could be next.   

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SC/AC/RA

EJ Insight writer

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