22 April 2019
Xiao Jianhua, who controls Tomorrow Group, was taken away by five to six plainclothes security agents from a residential block of a hotel in Hong Kong on Friday. Photo: The New York Times
Xiao Jianhua, who controls Tomorrow Group, was taken away by five to six plainclothes security agents from a residential block of a hotel in Hong Kong on Friday. Photo: The New York Times

Hong Kong is on its own

What appears to have been the abduction of a wealthy businessman from the Four Seasons Hotel in Hong Kong on Friday by mainland agents is evidence again of the city’s helplessness to protect its borders.

Xiao Jianhua, who controls Tomorrow Group, was taken away by five to six plainclothes security agents about 1 a.m. on Friday. He entered the mainland later that day through a Hong Kong border crossing, the Hong Kong police said.

Xiao lived in a residential block of one of the city’s most expensive hotels, which cost US$6,000 to US$26,000 per month. These rooms are popular with mainland tycoons who believe them secure and out of the public eye.

How did the agents know where he was living and why did they visit him in the middle of the night?

Everything points to an operation similar to that in December, where Lee Bo, co-owner of Causeway Bay Books, was abducted by mainland agents and taken to Shenzhen, probably by boat.

As with the case of Lee and the other four publishers detained by mainland police, the public explanation is baffling, if not Kakfaesque.

A statement by Xiao took the entire front page of the Ming Pao newspaper Wednesday.

It said that he was “overseas receiving medical treatment … and would soon meet the media. I believe that the Chinese government is civilised and follows the law. No one should misunderstand this. There is no situation that I have been kidnapped and taken to the mainland.

“I am a patriotic overseas Chinese who loves the [Communist] party and loves the country. I have never taken part in anything that harms the national interest or the image of the government. Even less would I support any opposition group or movement,” it said.

These read like the words Xiao are saying as he faces his interrogators in a mainland cell, as he defends himself against their accusations. We do not know what they are.

During the Lee Bo case, the government here said repeatedly that no one other than the Hong Kong police is allowed to enforce the law in the city. But it was unable to explain who abducted the publisher and on what authority.

This looks like an identical case. The agents of the mainland State Security Bureau and Central Commission for Discipline Inspection – the party’s anti-corruption body – seem to be able to operate here as they wish.

If Hong Kong officials raise the issue in internal meetings, the mainland side replies that these are issues of “national security”, which is a matter for Beijing.

This sense of the city’s isolation was also evident from a speech last week by the last governor Chris Patten. He told the BBC’s Newsnight program that the UK government was turning its back on the Hong Kong and selling its honor for trade deals with Beijing.

It was not upholding the 1984 Joint Declaration and the commitment guaranteeing various freedoms under “one country, two systems”, he said. Since 1997, Hong Kong has never been high up the British political agenda; its people do not vote in British elections.

It has fallen further down the list since the vote last June to leave the European Union. Britain will soon no longer be a member of a 28-member group that is strong enough to challenge China.

On Saturday, the EU’s European External Action Service asked Beijing to investigate reports of torture of three prominent human rights lawyers, out of about 300 lawyers and activists detained since July 2015.

We cannot imagine post-Brexit Britain making such a statement. About to lose its access to the single EU market, the largest in the world, the UK government is busy seeking trade and investment alliances with other countries.

Few are better placed than China, which is eager to build nuclear power stations, high-speed railways and other infrastructure in Britain. It wants to construct its Hualong Number One nuclear reactor in Bradwell, Essex; it would be the first Chinese-built plant in a developed country and, so Beijing hopes, the first of many.

The technology is now being examined by the British nuclear regulator. Approval of it will be a major political and economic decision.

The next two years of negotiating with the EU over the terms of its exit will be a particularly difficult time for the UK government, which is under pressure from different and conflicting interests at home, not to mention those of the EU members.

During this time, ministers will have no energy or will to represent the interests of Hong Kong people, even less to challenge China, an increasingly important business partner.

Hong Kong people will have to fight on their own.

– Contact us at [email protected]


Hong Kong-based writer, teacher and speaker

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