Forget notification mechanism, focus on Lee’s abduction

July 15, 2016 16:08
A protester wears a mask of Lee Bo in a rally outside China's liaison office. Lee is believed to have been hijacked by mainland agents in Hong Kong. Photo: Internet

You know a circus is going on when the governments from both sides of the border try to divert public attention from the callous abduction of a Hongkonger by raising some petty issues like improving the notification mechanism.

Let’s not forget that the most troubling revelation from the booksellers’ saga is law enforcement by agents from powerful yet opaque mainland security agencies in Hong Kong.

Almost everyone agrees that Causeway Bay Bookstore manager Lee Bo was kidnapped in the city and spirited away across the border, while Lee’s other associates were collared outside Hong Kong.

When doubts still shroud Lee’s case, then “one country, two systems” isn't worth the paper it's written on.

If Hong Kong were a nation, such incidents would have already constituted an infringement of sovereignty.

Cross-regional manhunt also unacceptable on mainland

Through the mouth of a local solicitor, pro-Beijing newspaper Wen Wei Po tried to justify the actions of the mainland agents and accused the public of making a fuss about the matter.

The United States has long been snatching people on foreign soil, like its arrest of Panamanian military dictator Manuel Noriega during Washington’s invasion in 1989, its capture of Saddam Hussein in Iraq in 2003 and the 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.

Given precedents like these, people should not be surprised and there’s nothing to worry about if you “do not cross the line and impair national security”, Wen Wei Po concludes. 

Yet aren’t these acts of war evidence of Washington’s disregard of other nations’ sovereignty?

Now let me give a recent example of the fact that, even on the mainland, enforcing law in another province or administrative region is considered unacceptable.

In 2012, Chongqing party secretary Bo Xilai (薄熙來) sent a battalion of armed police to Chengdu, capital of the neighboring Sichuan province, after his ally-turned-foe Wang Lijun (王立軍), then vice-mayor and police chief of Chongqing, defected to the US consulate in Chengdu and sought political asylum.

But Chengdu and Sichuan public and national security agents reportedly prevented the Chongqing policemen from escorting Wang back to their own city.

Wang later left the US consulate of his own volition and was transferred to Beijing for interrogation.

It’s clear that such cross-regional manhunt or operation is inappropriate.

Follow up the matter in August meeting

Inaction on the part of the SAR authorities has been so apparent since Lee’s hijack was reported last year.

Despite the simmering public outrage, the Leung Chun-ying administration did nothing to address the infringement of Hong Kong’s jurisdiction.

It was only after bookstore founder Lam Wing-kee told the world about what had happened to him that our officials started to put on an act and talk about ways to improve the notification mechanism.

Not a single word about the abduction or law enforcement by mainland agents was mentioned in the talks between Hong Kong's justice and security ministers and their mainland counterparts in Beijing earlier this month.

I suspect the Hong Kong side did try to broach Lee’s case but was only rebuffed by the other side and the talk looked more like a quasi-public trial of Lam as video clips of his forced confession were shown.

The notification mechanism exists in name only when the mainland refuses to follow up vital matters brought up by Hong Kong.

Since both sides have agreed to resume talks in August, I suggest the Hong Kong government show some backbone and put Lee’s abduction high up on the agenda.

The mainland side must give an account of what happened to Lee and how he entered Shenzhen without clearing immigration procedures.

Inspection of vehicles and vessels entering the mainland, in particular those exempted from border checks, must also be stepped up so as to plug a big security loophole.

The government must also pursue explanation regarding the two mainland agents who crossed the border to watch and tail Lam, after the latter was allowed a brief return on bail to Hong Kong.

They are also suspected of carrying out illegal, unauthorized operations in the territory.

The issue is never a new one

Even some liberal legal experts on the mainland have been warning against such excesses.

In a paper carried in the May 2005 issue of the mainland academic journal Criminal Research, two law scholars at the Guangdong Provincial Police College presented a detailed case study and stressed that Chinese law enforcement organs have no authority to arrest or detain suspects or search their homes in a separate, non-affiliated jurisdiction like Hong Kong.

All these are illegal and there is no extradition treaty between the two places, the paper said.

Yet mainland agents, as the paper reveals, with their inadequate understanding of “one country, two systems”, thought that crossing the boundary to hunt for anyone they wanted – even without prior notice or the presence of local police officers – was a matter of course after the 1997 reunification.

“Mainland law enforcers should be reminded that they are not different from tourists or general visitors when they are in Hong Kong,” the paper said.

This article appeared in the online forum of the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 14.

Translation by Frank Chen

[Chinese version 中文版]

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A signboard of Causeway Bay Bookstore on Lockhart Road in Causeway Bay. Photo: Internet

Senior journalist with The Straits Times and political commentator