23 October 2016
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying sent a letter to Beijing raising concerns over the arrest and detention of bookseller Lam Wing-kee (inset). Now all he has to do is wait for his bosses' reply. Photos: Reuters, HKEJ
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying sent a letter to Beijing raising concerns over the arrest and detention of bookseller Lam Wing-kee (inset). Now all he has to do is wait for his bosses' reply. Photos: Reuters, HKEJ

Booksellers’ saga shows helplessness of HK chief executive

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying made true his promise to send a letter to the central government raising concerns over the arrest and detention of bookseller Lam Wing-kee in the mainland.

But it is quite obvious from his statements that he wanted to distance himself from the incident and adopt a neutral stance.

He certainly doesn’t want to incur the ire of his bosses in Beijing by siding with Lam and the pan-democrats on the issue.

On Tuesday, Leung confirmed that he had sent the letter to the central government, after pan-democrat lawmakers accused him of not taking a strong enough stand on the issue.

The letter expressed Hong Kong people’s concerns about the incident, Leung said.

It also questioned whether any “cross-border law enforcement” had taken place and whether the so-called “notification system” was adequate in protecting the rights of Hong Kong people in the mainland.

The notification system requires mainland authorities to notify the Hong Kong government whenever a resident from the city is detained on the mainland.

However, CY Leung, in sending the letter, is merely playing it safe.

He wants to show to the Hong Kong people that he is doing his job as their leader by voicing concern over what happened to the booksellers, but at the same time, he doesn’t want to antagonize the top Beijing leaders who have yet to give their blessings to his plan to run for a second term.

In fact, based on his remarks about the incident, he is not even prepared to believe Lam’s revelations about his abduction, detention and interrogation in the mainland.

In a brief talk with reporters before an Executive Council meeting, Leung was asked about what he wrote in his letter to Beijing, and he said: “We don’t know the facts. What we know now is all from media reports.”

If anything, the letter raises more questions than answers as to Leung’s stance on Lam’s case.

It’s not even clear which government agency in the mainland was the letter addressed to, although it was most likely sent to the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office in Beijing.

From Lam’s revelations, it is clear that the case directly involves senior party officials in Beijing.

If that is the case, it will be difficult for us to expect them to offer any clear answer as to why their agents arrested and detained the booksellers in the mainland, or explain why they had to breach Hong Kong laws.

Leung stressed that he has raised the issue of cross-border law enforcement in his letter, but did he ask Beijing to answer Lam’s allegations as well as provide full information on the current situation of Gui Minhai, a Chinese Swedish who is seen as the key personality in the whole booksellers’ saga?

Did he ask what laws have been breached by the booksellers in Hong Kong?

In a way, Leung’s letter is a mere request for clarification on the general issue of Hong Kong people getting in trouble in the mainland.

In his letter, Leung did not touch on the specific circumstances concerning the five booksellers.

For example, he probably did not seek Beijing’s explanation as to why two Chinese police officers continued to closely follow Lam in Hong Kong following his release, and why Chinese officials ordered Lam to return to Hong Kong to bring back a hard disk containing information about the buyers of the supposedly banned books that started the entire saga.

Indeed, the case of the five booksellers provides an insight into Beijing’s idea of cross-border law enforcement.

What Leung is asking for is an official explanation, and all he can do is wait for what Beijing will ask him to do concerning the issue.

As chief executive of Hong Kong, Leung should have the best understanding of the Basic Law, the constitution that lays the foundation for the implementation of the “one country, two systems” principle in the territory.

The case of the five booksellers violates two articles of the Basic Law.

Article 27 guarantees that Hong Kong people will have freedom of speech, of the press and of publication.

But why were Lam and his colleagues arrested and detained by Chinese officials? For selling books that China’s top leaders didn’t like?

Article 28 says the freedom of the person of Hong Kong residents shall be inviolable.

It states clearly that no Hong Kong resident shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful arrest, detention or imprisonment.

So why was Lee Bo taken to China without any immigration records? Would that constitute “unlawful arrest”?

When told about CY Leung’s move of sending a letter to Beijing to seek clarification about the booksellers’ case, Lam did not appear very optimistic.

Lam said Hong Kong and Beijing are not of equal status under the “one country, two systems” framework. He said Leung has no bargaining power vis-a-vis his bosses in Beijing.

Lam is quite right. What can you expect if a subordinate asks his bosses for an explanation.

The bosses will take their time to answer him and answer him the way they want to answer him, if they ever will.

Nothing can be expected from CY Leung, who is acting as a Beijing subordinate and not as a representative of the Hong Kong people.

That’s the tragedy of being a Hong Kong chief executive who was not directly elected by the people.

– Contact us at [email protected]


EJ Insight writer

EJI Weekly Newsletter