Abductions put Hong Kong officials on the spot

January 12, 2016 13:41
Protesters post photos of the missing Hong Kong booksellers outside the central government's liaison office in Sai Wan. Photo: VOA

While Hong Kong shudders at the abductions of bookstore manager Lee Bo and his four associates, Beijing flunkeys in the city are not at all bothered.

Legislative Council president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing vetoed a call to convene an emergency meeting about the disappearances, while legislator Ng Leung-sing, speaking under Legco immunity, alleged that Bo probably sneaked into the mainland to patronize prostitutes.

These people’s remarks fall into three categories:

1) Lee was culpable and deserves to be punished for publishing books that maliciously smeared China and the Communist Party.

2) The incident, which is no big deal in itself, has been grossly exaggerated and politicized.

Legislators Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee and Michael Tien Puk-sun have been trying to downplay Lee's disappearance, noting that since he called his wife from the mainland, he must be safe and at liberty to do anything. The Hong Kong police, therefore, should wrap up the investigation after Lee crossed the border of his own accord.

3) Top officials pay lip service to the issue in the wake of repeated media enquiries. They say, for example, that mainland law enforcement agents are not supposed to discharge their duties in Hong Kong.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying’s call for people, especially Lee himself, to come forward with information to the police is particularly hypocritical.

Some of these rabid Beijing mouthpieces note that the Basic Law forbids mainland agencies from meddling with Hong Kong affairs, yet their past actions and statements suggest that they, in fact, welcome and push for Beijing intervention.

The fact that mainland agents have been carrying out operations in Hong Kong without authorization from the SAR government has been happening as early as 10 years ago. It has become so commonplace that it is no longer news.

A paper carried in the May 2005 issue of the Shanghai-based academic journal Criminal Research had a case study of the wrongful acts of mainland agents in Hong Kong.

Their excesses are mainly about illegal law enforcement in a separate, non-affiliated jurisdiction where mainland agents have no authority to arrest and detain suspects or search their homes.

Time and again, mainland national and public security organs have sent agents to Hong Kong to investigate cases without prior notice or the presence of local police officers.

Mainland agencies also make frequent, illegal requests to the Hong Kong police for assistance, which fall outside the latter's scope of duty.  

These include requests to freeze funds and other assets of a suspect, transfer funds, call in witnesses, impose compulsory measures or even take blood samples for DNA testing.

In June 1999, the paper revealed that a Chinese officer at a provincial public security department asked a local police superintendent to trace and arrest suspects following information that the fugitives may have entered Hong Kong. The local police superintendent acceded to the request.

With precedents like these, I noted in my previous column that we must watch closely how the Hong Kong government deals with this nascent crisis, to see if it will dodge its obligations or do something even worse, that is, act as Beijing’s accomplice.

Beijing mouthpiece Global Times said in its editorial last week that the way Lee entered the mainland determines whether his detention by mainland agents is a breach of the Basic Law or not.

The newspaper went so far as to state that, although directly arresting Lee in Hong Kong and spiriting him away across the border can be “inappropriate”, powerful security agencies usually have “many other ways to bypass legal hurdles to seize anyone they want for investigation while making sure that no laws or regulations are violated”.

This is so far the most convincing proof that Lee was abducted by Beijing.

Global Times has a point in its argument, as powerful security agencies are always good at doing these things, but the core issue here is whether the SAR government admits that what happened to Lee and his colleagues is illegal.

The chief executive, along with his chief secretary, secretary for justice and secretary for security, must answer if they have the obligation to ensure the well-being of all Hongkongers as well as the safe return of Lee and his colleagues.

Unsurprisingly, their only answer is no answer. They are either thoroughly unaware of the incident at the outset or have become abettors themselves.

In any case, who would risk their political careers to defend the “one country, two systems” and the Basic Law?

For a long time, local publications have been a key source of information about mainland politics, especially when there are no other reliable sources to gauge the situation there.

From the downfall of Bo Xilai (薄熙來) and Zhou Yongkang (周永康) to all sorts of revelations about corruption and infighting within the ruling party, we all get first-hand news not from China’s official news outlets but from titles banned in the mainland.

When Beijing is so desperate to deter and silence these publishers and booksellers under the guise of protecting national security, these abductions will only cement the people’s conviction about Beijing’s deep-seated fears and insecurities.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan. 7.

Translation by Frank Chen

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Banners opposing Communist Party rule in China are displayed outside the Chinese embassy in London. Photo: Chris McKenna/Wikicommons
Hong Kong students protest outside the Chinese embassy in London. Photo: Chris McKenna/Wikicommons,

Former full-time member of the Hong Kong Government’s Central Policy Unit, former editor-in-chief of the Hong Kong Economic Journal