Or… this could be the ultimate author’s publicity stunt


Anyone just vaguely following China affairs knows that the Xi Jinping regime is engaged in a campaign of ‘rectification’, including a major clampdown on media, discourse and ideas. They will also have noticed that the process extends to management of Xi’s own image, to the extent that learned observers talk of a Mao-style personality cult.

Hong Kong is not immune, with the city’s administration clearly now under the guidance of Beijing officials intolerant of local opposition forces. Where the media are concerned, Alibaba’s acquisition of the South China Morning Post suggests that the Communist Party wants the Hong Kong press to go beyond wanton obsequiousness and start playing a more engaged role in promoting the ‘mass line’.

So it should not be all that shocking that China-linked interests have been extending their grip on Hong Kong’s bookstores, at least partly to reduce the availability of salacious tabloid-style books on China’s leaders, aimed largely at Mainlanders visiting the city. Nor was it initially a big deal when, a few months back, men involved with a small publisher behind such works started going missing while visiting Shenzhen. It is not uncommon for Hong Kong men to be inconvenienced by matrimonial or business problems over the border. But it started to look more serious, and one feasible-sounding explanation was official pressure via trumped-up charges, as befell another Hong Kong publisher.

Things started to look even grimmer as it transpired that another person linked with the publishing house had disappeared in Thailand, whose despotic and inept military junta kowtows to Beijing. And then last Wednesday, a fifth man linked to the publisher vanished right here in Hong Kong. He was apparently taken to Shenzhen, without travel documents, from where he called to say he was part of an ‘investigation’. (A decent summary of the story is here.)

Hong Kong officials and (most) media would be reluctant at any time to question the good name of the Chinese government. With so few details about what really happened, it’s not surprising it took them a few days to get their heads around all this. To many people, however, this looks like something that has been barely thinkable up to now: a criminal act of abduction and cross-border transfer by officials or at least agents of the Chinese authorities. Demonstrators believing this assembled outside Beijing’s local Liaison Office yesterday.

Taking all five disappearances together, given the Xi-clampdown context, is there another rational explanation? Not that Xi would have to personally order a major transgression of the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ principle and violation of Hong Kong’s autonomy. But it is all too easy to imagine him (or any dictator) holding some petrified underling responsible for ensuring that an embarrassing girl-tells-all book does not appear. In the Chinese system, as the word goes down the command structure, the fear of failure and desperation to obey mount. Lower-tier officials will do whatever it takes to deliver results.

The Hong Kong cops are acknowledging a missing-person case. The city’s de facto leader when the Glorious Motherland appears in the slightest way imperfect, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam, has issued a minimalist holding statement. This probably does not reflect SCMP-HKSeeksinsensitive, uncaring brutishness (a task her boss CY Leung does not need to delegate to her). It looks like sheer terror at the possibility that the Communist Party’s thugs are indeed rampaging on this side of the border.

If this turns out to be the case, it is hard to see how Chinese or local officials can wriggle out of it – by blaming over-eager triads, say. Someone has to account for five people last seen alive. Local apologists for the regime in Beijing will more than ever be on the defensive. The mainstream establishment in the business community will, at least discreetly, be concerned, and a few aghast. The opposition camp will be proved vividly correct in its warnings about Communist encroachment on Hong Kong’s freedoms and values. (Or China will simply round up every dissenter in the city, switch off the Internet, and be done with it.)

This looks like a big screw-up. To compound it, consider Ursula Gauthier. Her article on China’s counterproductive Xinjiang strategy would have received little attention had Beijing not kicked her out. (And Beijing could have avoided looking even more like the ultra-sensitive cry-baby dictatorship it is.) Whatever has happened to the five Hong Kong publishers, and whatever comes next, a hitherto oblivious world will now want to find out more about Xi Jinping’s girlfriend, and any other dirt those guys came up with.


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21 Responses to Or… this could be the ultimate author’s publicity stunt

  1. Regislea says:

    Let us not forget that the HK Government already has some form here:


  2. reductio says:

    Day 4 of the new year and we’re up and running already. But c’mon. Would any official in China be that stupid to kidnap a HK citizen across the border (sorry, boundary)? I think it might be due to money owed, and not to a bank. If it IS some “who will rid me of this priest” scenario then HK is really screwed. Would love to be a fly on the wall at Government HQ today.

  3. It’s worse than a crime. It’s a blunder. But its still a crime. We need a million on the streets again. And we will probably get them. You sound a bit complacent. In fact you sound very complacent.

  4. Red Dragon says:

    Oh dear me. Only the 4th of January, and 2016 is already beginning to get bumpy.

    I have a feeling that this is but the thin end of the wedge.

    As Hemlock observes, the sun is setting, and the shadows getting longer.

    Can anyone, honestly, see Hong Kong going anywhere but totally down the pan?

  5. Cassowary says:

    If the five men are still alive, they will suddenly be “discovered” to have been caught in a prostitution raid in Arse-End, Nowhere Prefecture, Yunnan Province. If any of them are dead, there will be suitable rumours circulated about suicide, mistresses and/or triad loansharks. The bodies will be cremated before being returned to the families.

  6. Joe Blow says:

    689 sez that the Government is extremely worried about the Missing 5.

    Now let’s have an official statement from his bosses at the Liaison Office that they are not involved.

  7. PD says:

    Thanks, Hemlock, for this analysis: as always balanced, cautious, uninvolved, but with a welcome edginess and realism in recent months.

    Something similar happened in Macao several years ago, when mainland agents seem to have disappeared someone.

    As you say, it looks decidedly fishy. The only alternative explanation, rather far-fetched, to Knownot’s tinted van being waved through would be some sort of persuasion: buying silence by making financial offers that couldn’t be refused.

    However, I’m not entirely convinced that this is a major screw-up by Zhongnanhai, since the man in the Tucson street doesn’t know where HK is, the abductees are ethnically Chinese and presumably Chinese passport holders and this sort of thing happens every day in some parts of East Asia.

  8. pie-chucker says:

    “I have cancelled all routing meetings on government business as I personally use all my connections in China, and seek constant updates from our law enforcement officers here in Hong Kong, to get to the bottom of this.

    I shall be before Legco on Wednesday to give a full account of all we know at that time. Meanwhile, I advise against speculation.”

    Why cannot CY put out such a statement? He must be able to grasp public/business/foreign media/diplomatic disquiet. Whither any sense of leadership?

  9. reductio says:


    YOU know words along these lines would be the response of a true leader; I know this this; my cat knows this (not sure about my dogs, ministerial-level brains only). But we’re talking CY here.

  10. “Thanks, Hemlock, for this analysis: as always balanced, cautious, uninvolved, but with a welcome edginess and realism in recent months.”

    Watch it PD. You are dangerously close to nomination for an AOBN.

  11. Cassowary says:

    @pie-chucker: We all know why. The HKSAR Government cannot be seen getting ideas above its station. If the Chief Executive publicly promises to confront any of the cadres upstairs, then that puts them in the position of a) doing the thing he asks, or b) slapping him down like a disobedient puppy. This would either a) encourage the denizens of Hong Kong to become more uppity, or b) ruin the carefully maintained fiction that the CE is not a two-bit puppet. The best the CE’s office can do is issue blandly reassuring boilerplate.

  12. Red Dragon says:

    Fenby, old thing.

    I know what the OBN is, but pray enlighten me as to what AOBN might stand for.

  13. Nimby says:

    Regislea, you’ve got that right, and not just post 97. At the intersection of Victoria Rd and Mt. Davis Rd there is (was?) a house surrounded by a high wall and impressive stacks of barwire coils, a house which uniquely use to have it’s own dock. According to an ex-neighbor who once worked with the Special Branch of HKPF/RHKPF, that house from 1950s up to 1980s was a “special interrogation center” for political activist and agents of unfriendly governments. Numerous individuals were taken into that house, and in some cases never heard from again. Some how Hong Kong public survived all of those dark years, it will muddle through this ugly mess too, and perhaps even find a way to prosper from it. Sad, isn’t it.

  14. Joe Blow says:

    AOBN = Asian Order of the Brown Nose.
    It’s a Dr Adams thing.
    I believe Michael Chugani has a AOBN.

    Coming back to the ever disappearing book boys: why is it that when some kids put a firecracker in a bin, “Asia’s Finest” (uggh) are able to round up 6 suspects in no time, but when not 1, not 2, not 3, not 4 but 5 people, on 5 different occasions, mysteriously vanish, they cannot find a single trace or clue ? Either the HK Police is mindbogglingly (is that a word ?) incompetent or they are covering up for the perpetrators of these heinous crimes, perhaps hoping to receive a AOBN for themselves.

  15. PCC says:

    Mr. Leung took 60 hours before expressing his concern about the missing men because he needed that time to check with the Liaison Office to find out how concerned he was, if at all.

    Now that he knows he’s concerned, he’ll soon be informed what bold actions he intends to take to preserve the Basic Law and “one country, two systems” in light of the abductions and, by jiminy, he’s going to take those actions. Oh, yes!

  16. Rory says:

    Good stuff in the Standard.
    Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has expressed concern over the disappearance of five booksellers well known for publications critical of Beijing.
    CY said he was “very concerned” today amid fury among lawmakers, with a prominent legistator accusing mainland security officers of kidnapping the five.
    The missing men all worked for a Hong Kong-based publishing house and are feared to have been detained by Chinese authorities, adding to growing unease that freedoms in the semi-autonomous city are being eroded.
    Under the Basic Law, Hong Kong enjoys freedom of speech and Chinese law enforcers have no right to operate in the city.
    “I and related government departments are very concerned,” CY said.
    “The government cares very much about Hong Kong residents’ rights and safety.
    “Only legal enforcement agencies in Hong Kong have the legal authority to enforce laws in Hong Kong,” he added.
    Democratic Party lawmaker Albert Ho Chun-yan said on Sunday he believed the men had been kidnapped by Chinese security officers.
    When CY was asked today whether he thought the men had been taken to the mainland, he said there was “no indication” and appealed for anyone with information to come forward.
    It is still unclear where the men are or how they went missing.
    Unpopular Leung is seen as close to Beijing and is a hate figure for pro-democracy activists.
    Opponents criticised him for not going far enough to press Chinese authorities for information.
    “The Hong Kong government and Leung Chun-ying should express to the top level on the mainland Hong Kong people’s concern, instead of awaiting a reply,” said pro-democracy lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan.

  17. Monkey Reborn says:

    “Minimalist holding statement” indeed.

    Smells like an intelligence agency acting secretly under factional direction. If this was an open top-level national security decision (i.e. made through regular party channels) then I would expect a PR approach wih more obvious Liaison Office involvement and the usual preplanned narrative build and sell efforts through United Front organisations (and their logical consequence – highly unsubtle stupidity). In particular, Carrie’s statement does indeed appear to express personal, non-Liason Office views (but has obviously been issued under duress). CY is a card carrying CCP member and his response is obviously directed from BJ.

    In fact, if I was a betting man, I would bet: a) they all know perfectly well at the Liason Office as well as top level HKG Gov what is going on; b) this is an MSS deal (only a national intelligence agency would be able to extract or disappear an individual from Thailand, too far fetched to imagine triads coordinating a multinational abduction, they would just do a hit); c) the order comes directly from XJP or via his faction; d) the Liason Office is pissed that ultimately it will have to carry the can and deal with the mafan brewing, and senior HKG Gov officers are buying open first class tickets to their wife’s second passport country; e) the purpose of the “investigation” is to find out how much is known, where the information is located, if there is a dead mans switch how to neutralise it, and most importantly, where the source of the leaks in the party hierarchy is (otherwise no need for abduction, assassination would be a cleaner approach and is a well practiced technique of intelligence agencies); f) someone in the party or MSS does not think highly of Hong Kong’s autonomy, or already operates as if Hong Kong is just another city in the Motherland.

    The only other possibility that comes to my mind is that this is a trial balloon for doing away with a separate judicial system and legal autonomy. But too stupid for that, would be a million better ways to do it, and three factors convince me that it is not so: a) there is no ready-to-go scapegoat; b) all the statements I have read feel way too reactive, unplanned, uncoordinated (NB: yes, that is how I critically evaluate whether a political event or dynamic is being driven by the traditional party state apparatus – uniformity or apparently spontaneous eruptions of harmony and a weak, powerless or voiceless – or ideally – imaginary scapegoat); c) the chorus of official we love and cherish our autonomy, Hong Kong gov responses.

    It’s going to be an interesting year, methinks. DAX down 4.5% in first trading day, Saudi and Iran breaking diplomatic ties, Israel and Hezbollah going for it, and we are still in week 1. Viva la evolucion hermanos, amigas y compadres!!!

  18. PD says:

    GA, Tut, tut. The contrived “dialogue” on your site must be contagious.

  19. Gin Soaked Boy says:

    @Nimby. The house was nick-named the Puzzle Palace and is still there. The cells and related facilities are intact. Somewhere on the web are photographs of the interior taken by kids who recently broke in.

    The facility had a private pier hidden from public view so that arrivals and departures could not be observed.

  20. Big Al says:

    The site of the “Puzzle Palace” has recently received planning permission to be redeveloped into the funky new University of Chicago Centre in Hong Kong, which will be the campus for the Booth School of Business Executive MBA that is currently languishing in temporary lodgings at Cyberport – see http://bingthomarchitects.com/project/university-of-chicago-center-in-hong-kong/

  21. Laguna Lurker says:

    The Victoria Road Detention Centre was an ungazetted prison and interrogation facility operated by the Special Branch. Detainees were held at the pleasure of the Governor-in-Council. It was known throughout the police force as “The Zoo”. After 1997, it was used for the purposes of the police witness protection programme.

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