Speculation rife over sudden cancellation of Hong Kong souvenir book launch

Though printing issues cited as reason, commentators and publishers believe problems in content of book commemorating city’s past 20 years a likelier cause

PUBLISHED : Monday, 13 February, 2017, 8:50pm
UPDATED : Monday, 13 February, 2017, 10:24pm

The abrupt cancellation of a politically star-studded launch of a book commemorating the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong being under Chinese sovereignty has drawn talk that the reason goes beyond just a “printing problem”.

The large souvenir book, titled 20th Anniversary of Hong Kong’s Return, published by pro-Beijing Ta Kung Wen Wei Media Group, was originally scheduled for launch on Monday afternoon at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, according to a press invitation dated February 9. But a terse notice on February 11 said the event was cancelled due to a “printing problem”.

“I don’t know the details but I believe it’s just some technical problem that has caused a delay in the launch, nothing else,” Yin Shuguang, Wen Wei Po deputy chief editor, told the Post.

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He said the book was a project under the group’s publishing house and not the editorial department, and that it was done on a tight schedule. Even the invitation was issued too late. Guests on the invitation list included former city leader Tung Chee-hwa and Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, Legislative Council president Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen, as well as Hong Kong-based Chinese officials such as the Liaison Office’s deputy chief Yang Jian, China’s foreign affairs deputy commissioner Song Ru’an, and People’s Liberation Army garrison chief of staff He Qimao.

“I know [the cancellation] seems strange but I am optimistic the launch would be rescheduled very soon,” Yin said, adding that it depended on the guests’ busy schedules.

But political commentators and publishers saw the last-minute cancellation of the souvenir book’s launch as anything but normal.

“A book like that should have gone through many rounds of inspection and approval before going to print,” said Johnny Lau Yui-siu, a veteran China watcher and former Wen Wei Po reporter. “The sudden cancellation would happen only if something [went seriously wrong] in the content.”

Ching Cheong, former Wen Wei Po deputy chief editor, agreed that problems in the book’s content could have led to the delay.

“It could be something about Beijing’s policy on Hong Kong that has undergone some changes during the two decades the book covers,” he said.

Lau Tat-man, founder of Ha Fai Yi Publication, said printing issues were an unlikely cause.

“The city’s best printing machines are owned by pro-Beijing publishers such as Chung Hwa and Commercial Press, and projects like this book are political assignments that would take priority over other jobs,” he said. “What probably happened was some of the content, such as Occupy Central, was presented in a way that proved to be too divisive and against Beijing’s policy for social harmony,” he said.

“How some of the CE candidates in the forthcoming election are portrayed in the book could be a reason for a fix too,” he added.