The plot thickens

Hong Kong’s bookseller-abduction mystery continues. Aspiring Hollywood screenplay writers can see if they can devise theories more gripping than these, the most intriguing of which is that the abductions of five publishers are the work of a Chinese leadership faction trying to undermine Xi Jinping’s regime. Sounds fanciful, until…

Stan-NewTwist

…the story takes a ‘new twist’ as missing publisher Lee Bo’s wife tries to withdraw her report to the police. The Standard mentions that she worked at Joint Publishing, part of the Chinese state’s local media network under the Liaison Office. Apple Daily is saying she is a columnist for similarly state-run Ta Kung Pao, and she is the sister of a noted and officially honoured Mainland poet.

So: Sophie Choi, who arrived in Hong Kong from the Mainland in 1977, and has good-quality professional and family Communist Party ties, has a husband who produces anti-Beijing books. That maybe sounds unlikely. But what if Sophie’s ties are to a particular Communist Party faction and the books are specifically anti-Xi?

(This sort of complements my own deepest, sordid, whimsical suspicion of an absurdly elaborate publisher’s PR stunt. Maybe the anti-Xi grouping is not trying to embarrass China’s leader by making it appear that he is wrecking Hong Kong’s autonomy, but by creating dazzling, global pre-launch publicity for a book about his past philandering.)

Getting back down to serious Earth – so far as possible – the disappearances represent perhaps the most worrying challenge to Hong Kong’s well-being since 1997. This is reflected in the international media’s attention to the case. Something has happened that looks like unprecedented extra-legal activity committed in Hong Kong by agents of the Chinese state.

This could be a portent of totalitarian doom for the city. If they send the tanks in, it’s all over. But if the decision-makers in Beijing perceive that a screw-up on someone’s part has happened and some sort of damage-limitation is necessary, this could be a turning-point. It could be a big wake-up call to local moderates who have daydreamed that ‘One Country, Two Systems’ is essentially secure and trustworthy. And it could be a (further) setback to the image of the Central People’s Government, to the pro-Beijing camp, to Chief Executive CY Leung, and to many of their pet works (even down to the plan for a Mainland immigration post at the downtown rail station).

The key is for the media, pro-dem politicians and others to look beyond Lee Bo. One middle-aged guy in detention (maybe) across the border (maybe) sending comforting messages to his wife is not a big deal – easily explainable by routine Shenzhen debt/mistress/blackmail/insufficient-bribe problems. Five guys going missing (one apparently Swedish from Thailand, one possibly British from Hong Kong), all linked to the same book likely to embarrass Xi Jinping – that’s a story on a different dimension.

Producing one guy alive and healthy who clams up so we all forget about it would be easy. Showing us all five with a credible explanation of their (obviously connected) disappearance will be a challenge worthy of a Hollywood plot-conceiver.

Mainland officialdom in some form is presumably/probably/99% certainly behind this – don’t let them off the hook.

An additional reminder that anything is believable. Foreign Policy on Xi Jinping’s no-effort-spared image-management…

FP-Pooh

Yes, that’s Pooh, as in “Winnie the”, we’re censoring.

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16 Responses to The plot thickens

  1. Gin Soaked Boy says:

    We are now witnessing an attempt to spin a story – the Global Times is already saying the matter is resolved because the wily Mr. Lee managed to make his own way to Shenzhen without travel documents to assist an investigation. As you do.

    There is much going on here that we don’t understand, with poor CY looking-like a rabbit in the headlights. I was wondering who got to Mrs Lee. That you’ve now cleared up. The pieces are falling into place.

  2. Joe Blow says:

    If even ‘patriots’ like Sophie and her husband are not safe anymore, then good luck to the rest of us.

  3. Enid Fenby says:

    The SCMP reports that itnis not the content of the book, it is the attitude. Exactly. That’s what marks it out as a Public Security op.

    You defeat the truth by too much subtlety. These people aren’t subtle. It’s a direct order from Xi, Leung knew about it and now its damage limitation time. The ICAC needs to investigate the police participation in the crime. It’s not completely sunk – yet.

  4. Cassowary says:

    If they don’t come up with some ingenious damage control strategy, the next best option for Beijing (definitely not for anyone else) is to make them disappear forever and deny any knowledge. Take the PR hit and wait for the media to get bored and go away. They will eventually. In two or three years, the Hong Kong police will quietly close the case, unsolved. The families will start showing up to give speeches at the annual June 4th vigil, and be ignored by officialdom. The British and Swedish foreign ministers may, on occasion, raise the matter of their missing citizens as a formality, but nobody will really expect them to be returned, nor get in the way of pending trade agreements.

  5. Cassowary says:

    Well, a couple of the families may start showing up at June 4th rallies. The rest will be paid to go away. The Beijing-friendly media will write about the vocal families like they are insane conspiracy theorists.

  6. Gin Soaked Boy says:

    @ Enid. The ICAC are most politically controlled law enforcement agency in Hong Kong. Don’t forget the ICAC report direct to the CE.

  7. Knownot says:

    The wife of a missing man was alarmed to receive a phone call from him, apparently in Hell, but she has now been reassured by a fax.

    There’s nothing, dear, to tell
    Except that I’m in Hell.
    I can’t say who I’ve met here
    But I didn’t die to get here
    And I’m being treated well.

  8. Lee Bo says:

    I think you took the appropriate tone with this Hems. And I concur 100% with your assessment. IF this is indeed a commie abduction executed in Hong Kong, it changes everything.

    The knock on the door in the middle of the night has arrived. A Solzhenitsyn moment I never thought I’d experience in my lifetime. I naively started to believe by the late 90s, much along the lines of the fabulously wrong Francis Fukuyama that we had arrived at the end of history and that liberal democracies were slowly putting all this nonsense behind us. How wrong we all were.

    Apparently it wasn’t the end of history, but just a brief repose on the downward slope.

    First they came for the publishers….

  9. Joe Blow says:

    During the day I play snooker
    And at nite I hump a hooker
    I love the Party more than life
    Please tell the press, my dear wife

  10. Joe Blow says:

    Lee Bo, Fukuyama was not necessarily wrong. What we are witnessing now are the last spasms of outdated totalitarianism. Don’t assume for one moment that the CCP is all powerful. There is a massive struggle going on within the Party and it may well tear itself apart from the inside. Let it be so.

  11. Chief says:

    Joe Blow , yes that day might come, but when? And at what cost? Millions of lives have already been ruined…

    I cannot help but shed tears when I think about Hong Kong’s impending doom, and how helpless and hopeless Hong Kongers have been all these years.

    And it will only get worse.

  12. PD says:

    I seems to be just me, but I’ll go ahead anyway. What everyone appears to be glossing over is the nationality of the five, and in particular of Mr Lee.

    Can people with “Home” Visit Permits and dual nationality travel to China using only the foreign passport?

    Does this apply when the foreign passports are not recognised by China, eg UK passports granted without a requirement to live in Britain?

    Apart from expressions of concern, have dual nationals ever got any real support from foreign governments while on Chinese soil?

  13. Reader says:

    @PD:
    Article 9 of the PRC Constitution says:
    Any Chinese national who has settled abroad and who has been naturalized as a foreign national or has acquired foreign nationality of his own free will shall automatically lose Chinese nationality.

    So by taking British Nationality, Lee *automatically* escaped any legal jurisdiction of the Boys from Beijing. In theory, and just like millions of others.

  14. Old Newcomer says:

    @Reader – since they don’t define Hong Kong as ‘abroad”, anyone who acquired a BNO passport but stayed here is probably still a Chinese national in the eyes of Beijing.

  15. MS says:

    @Reader
    In reality, you need to inform the PRC government about your new foreign nationality. You are then stripped of passports, hukou, home return permits, right to work in the Mainland etc. But in reality, most Hong Kongers don’t do this because the want to retain the conveniences, along with their foreign passport.

  16. Reader says:

    @ Old Newcomer
    The second condition “has acquired foreign nationality of his own free will” applies regardless of whether they left HK.

    @MS
    Indeed, one way or another, the automatic loss of Chinese nationality doesn’t happen. But that is still what the constitution says: ‘automatically’. Perhaps we shouldn’t take the CCP government at its word?

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