My Take

Lesson from booksellers: if you’re Chinese, don’t upset Beijing

It may be argued there has been no breach of the ‘one country, two systems’ principle if extrajudicial rendition applies to Chinese anywhere in the world

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 June, 2016, 10:59pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 June, 2016, 1:10am

In the disappearance – and subsequent reappearance – of the five booksellers, there involves two distinct legal issues, even as far as mainland law is concerned. Yet both the anti-China crowd and Beijing’s loyalists are deliberately confusing the two to serve their own ends.

While all five have confessed under varying degrees of pressure to selling and distributing anti-government books in Hong Kong and the mainland, the circumstances of their arrests make all the difference.

I considered suicide while in solitary ... and I know why my girlfriend turned against me, bookseller Lam Wing-kee admits

Gui Minhai vanished from Pattaya in Thailand. Lam Wing-kee, Cheung Chi-ping and Lui Por went missing while on the mainland. Lee Po disappeared from Hong Kong in December.

Clearly, whether or not you think it’s perfectly within their right to sell whatever books they like in Hong Kong, distributing banned books allegedly on a large scale made Lam, Cheung and Lui offenders subject to arrest under Chinese law – once they were on the mainland. Pan-democrats and Beijing’s critics may praise Lam’s personal heroics all they want, but he and the other two were fair game to mainland authorities given their offences.

Gui and Lee are entirely different, given the way they were detained. Since there are no records of them leaving Hong Kong or Thailand, or any hint of notification or cooperation between mainland and local law enforcement agencies, the natural conclusion – one that mainland authorities have never tried to deny or confirm – is that they were captured and sent back to the mainland under some version of extrajudicial rendition. Furthermore, because Gui was born a Chinese citizen, the fact that he holds a Swedish passport cuts no ice on the mainland.

Let’s hope Hong Kong bookseller saga does not mean the end of ‘one country, two systems’

From these, several scary consequences follow. If Chinese authorities consider you a Chinese national, it doesn’t matter what citizenship you hold; you have no outside or consular protection and must bear the full weight of mainland law. And, this situation applies even if you are not on the mainland.

It appears these consequences apply most immediately to Hong Kong people, regardless of “one country, two systems”. It may even be argued there has been no breach of the “one country, two systems” principle if extrajudicial rendition applies to Chinese everywhere around the world.

Some people say if you have done nothing to upset mainland authorities, there is nothing to fear. Well, precisely.