Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying now finds himself in a very difficult bind.
Amid the public outcry over the revelations of bookseller Lam Wing-kee regarding his abduction and detention in the mainland, our leader had to show that he cares for Hong Kong people, regardless of what his critics say.
And so he sent a top-level delegation to Beijing to discuss the cross-border notification mechanism, which appears to have been violated with the disappearance of the five booksellers last year and, as it turned out, their detention in the mainland.
His objective, obviously, was to show to Hong Kong people that the “one country, two systems” principle is alive and well, meaning, respected by the authorities on both sides of the border.
But what he might not have anticipated was the response from Beijing, which turned the tables on Lam and accused him breaching his bail conditions by not returning to the mainland.
What CY Leung’s delegation got, instead of assurances that the “one country, two systems” principle is intact, is a nothing less than an ultimatum from the mainland authorities.
“Lam is a wanted man in China and he should return to China to face the charges,” Beijing’s Public Security Ministry told the visiting Hong Kong delegation. “We may consider taking action if he does not.”
What did CY Leung expect to get from his bosses, anyway? Did he think that his justice minister Rimsky Yuen and security chief Lai Tung-kwok could go to Beijing and lecture their mainland counterparts, their bosses, on the mechanics of the notification system and the “one country, two systems”?
They were the ones who were lectured on, and shown a video of Lam admitting that he breached the laws of China and pleading for leniency.
Of course, under the circumstances he was in, Lam would admit to anything as he was in no position to assert his rights or protest his innocence.
And to show that Lam’s rights were respected while under detention in Ningbo in Zhejiang province, the video also shows Lam staying in a clean and cozy cell with a nice bed, and being given ample meals, appropriate medical checkups and a regular haircut.
In short, the video is saying that Lam was treated well.
Then, the mainland security officials issued a statement detailing Lam’s alleged crimes and the others who were also involved.
In the video, Lam admitted that he and another man had used a mainland bank account to collect more than 400,000 yuan (US$59,780) by selling 368 banned books in the mainland.
But there was no mention of the fact that though the books they sold are banned in the mainland, those books are not banned in Hong Kong, and that their bookstore is a Hong Kong company, and the business was conducted in Hong Kong.
Did CY Leung’s men dare to point out these little details to their mainland counterparts?
Perhaps that’s the meaning of “one country, two systems” as far as Beijing is concerned: A Hong Kong citizen can be arrested by mainland authorities in the mainland and charged with conducting illegal business in the mainland, although their business is entirely legal in Hong Kong.
We could only imagine Yuen and Lai humbly nodding their heads as they listened to the Beijing officials’ lecture.
But if we are to believe that “one country, two systems” is still being implemented in this part of the world, we should assert that Lam, or any other Hong Kong citizen for that matter, is protected by Hong Kong laws, and not subjected to China’s laws, while living and conducting their business in their own city.
If we are to believe that “one country, two systems” is alive and well, Hong Kong officials should unequivocally point out to their mainland counterparts that Hong Kong and China are two different jurisdictions, operating under legal systems that are independent of each other.
What would now be the response of CY Leung’s administration?
If he agrees with Beijing’s assertion, then he could have Lam arrested and sent back to the mainland to face the music.
But that would be a patent violation of the “one country, two systems” principle, something that is unlikely to earn him the sympathies of Hong Kong people.
But if he is to assert the “one country, two systems” principle, then he should ensure Lam’s protection, and prevent him from being abducted again and whisked off to a mainland cell.
However, that would not endear him to his Beijing bosses, and further lessen his chances of getting their blessing for a second term in office.
Beijing is clearly putting pressure on the Hong Kong government to toe the line as far as the Causeway Bay Bookstore case is concerned.
After returning to Hong Kong following eight months of detention in the mainland, Lam expressed fears for his personal safety.
The Hong Kong police offered to give him protection, but that obviously is of little comfort to him, as he was prompted to cancel his plan to join the July 1 pro-democracy march after noticing that some people are closely monitoring his movements.
Lam told Hong Kong media on Wednesday that he was being followed by four men and he felt his life was under threat.
He is currently living in a safehouse, but, again, that really doesn’t assure his safety.
Lam also said he is not sure if Hong Kong police are ready to provide him protection, noting that officials have said they don’t think he is in danger at the moment.
Lam, in fact, said Hong Kong police didn’t want him to stay in Hong Kong.
Considering Beijing’s insistence that Lam is a wanted man, one could surmise that mainland officials will do their best to take him back to China.
That could explain why four men, according to Lam, have been following him.
But Hong Kong officials said Beijing did not urge the Hong Kong side to arrest Lam.
That is far from reassuring. We can only hope that we won’t learn one day that Lam has again disappeared, although, if that happens, we already know why.
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