January 6, 2016

British foreign secretary steps in over missing Hong Kong booksellers


Chinese president Xi Jinping. (Image via Wikipedia)

On Monday we reported that a fifth bookseller had gone missing in Hong Kong in what appears to be a move by the Chinese government to silence dissenting voices in the region.

Lee Bo, the co-owner of Causeway Bay Books and its associated publisher Mighty Current, was confirmed missing last week. But on Tuesday, as Tom Phillips and Ilaria Maria Sala reported for The Guardian, the mystery became an international concern when the UK’s foreign office confirmed that Bo is a British citizen and that it was “deeply concerned” about the disappearances.

The arrival of the British foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, for a two day visit to China has brought further attention to the story. Speaking at the start of his visit, Hammond told a press conference in Beijing:

These people have gone missing—Mr Lee Bo, who is a British passport holder, has gone missing—and we have urgently inquired both of [the] Hong Kong authorities and of the mainland Chinese authorities what, if anything, they know of his whereabouts.

According to The Guardian, Lee seems to have crossed from Hong Kong into mainland China without documents or detection from Hong Kong immigration officers. And according to the paper, in response to Hammond’s remarks, the Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi seemed “to confirm his government’s involvement in Lee’s disappearance for the first time”:

Asked about the missing bookseller’s situation, Wang said: “On the specific case you mentioned … based on the basic law of Hong Kong and China’s nationality law, the person in question is first and foremost a Chinese citizen…It is not necessary for anyone to make groundless speculations.”

But speaking to The Guardian, Hong Kong publisher Bao Pu said that the alleged abduction showed that the “one country, two systems” formula under which Hong Kong has operated since its return to Chinese hands in 1997 had “completely collapsed.” Hammond stressed that:

We would hope that wherever Mr Lee is—if he is charged with any offences—those offences would be tried in Hong Kong.

As we reported on Monday, Lee made a phone call to his wife on the eve of his disappearance, in which he said that he was “assisting in an investigation”. But on Tuesday police confirmed that Lee’s wife had retracted her statement. It was a move that Amnesty International said “smacked of intimidation”. Amnesty International’s China researcher, William Nee told The Guardian:

One wonders whether the same sort of intimidation is being used against associates and friends of the publishers.





Zeljka Marosevic is the managing director of Melville House UK.