Student leader Joshua Wong Chi-fung was denied entry to Thailand and detained for ten hours at the Bangkok international airport recently before being repatriated back to Hong Kong.
Thai authorities reportedly took the action due to intervention from Beijing, which has been wary of Hong Kong youth activists in the wake of the 2014 Occupy pro-democracy protests.
The incident has sparked concern that Beijing may have violated Hong Kong people’s right to travel, something that is promised under the Basic Law, by using its diplomatic influence over a foreign government.
In fact it wasn’t the first time Beijing required another country to deny a Hong Kong citizen entry and deport him. It’s just that the previous cases didn’t receive as much media coverage as the case of Wong.
In one case, in June 1999, a Hong Kong citizen named Wu Man (胡文）who traveled to Thailand on a British National Overseas (BNO) passport was detained by Thai immigration authorities at the airport and later turned over directly to Chinese law enforcement.
According to information released by the Chinese authorities afterwards, Wu was accused of being a member of a crime syndicate headed by the notorious bandit Cheung Chi-keung, who kidnapped the eldest son of tycoon Li Ka-shing back in 1996. Wu was at that time on the most wanted list of both the Chinese police and the Interpol.
However, the incident immediately sparked a diplomatic dispute among Britain, Thailand and China. London lodged a protest with Bangkok over Wu’s extradition to China, arguing that since Wu traveled to Thailand on a BNO passport issued by the British government, the Thai authorities had breached diplomatic protocol by not notifying the British embassy of Wu’s extradition to China.
The British representatives even brought up the matter with their Chinese counterparts at a subsequent meeting of the Sino-British Joint Liaison Group, only to be told by Chinese officials that there was nothing inappropriate in seeking extradition of Wu from Thailand since he had committed crimes on Chinese soil.
Besides, they said, under the Basic Law, all ethnic Chinese born in Hong Kong, regardless of what passports they are holding, are all considered Chinese citizens, and automatically fall within the jurisdiction of Chinese authorities.
The question of whether Hong Kong citizens holding foreign citizenship should be entitled to consular protection if they are arrested on Chinese soil once again caught public attention when Gui Minhai, a naturalized Swedish citizen and co-owner of the Causeway Bay Bookstore, suddenly vanished in Thailand and then reappeared on national TV in the mainland in February this year.
Many are worried that local dissidents traveling overseas with a BNO passport could be susceptible to the same ordeal because Beijing doesn’t even recognize the BNO as a formal passport.
Given the recent history, I believe Wong had every reason to be scared when he was detained at the Bangkok airport, because what happened to Gui could also happen to him.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct. 21.
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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