Hong Kong bookseller disappearances

Unnamed businessman pulls out of Taiwan shop deal with Hong Kong bookseller Lam Wing-kee

According to former Causeway Bay Books store manager, backer feared his mainland Chinese business would suffer if plans went ahead

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 July, 2018, 8:32am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 24 July, 2018, 5:15pm

Hong Kong bookseller Lam Wing-kee, who claimed he was kidnapped by Chinese agents in 2015 for selling books critical of the authorities, said a businessman pulled out of their plans to open a bookstore in Taiwan over fears that his mainland Chinese business would suffer.

Lam said the Hong Kong businessman, whom he declined to name, told him last month that he felt “pressure” over opening the bookstore with him.

“He did not elaborate, and he did not even have to. He has business in the mainland, and I believe that he was concerned his business there would suffer,” Lam said in a phone interview on Monday.

The businessman added he was being “probed” by “some people” on their plans to open the store in Taiwan, Lam said. But the businessman again declined to offer details.

Lam, formerly the store manager of Causeway Bay Books, was caught at the centre of a storm that gripped Hong Kong in 2015.

In that year, five associates of the bookstore and the Mighty Current publishing house started to disappear one after another.

Gui Minhai vanished from Thailand in October. Lam, Cheung Chi-ping and Lui Por went missing from the mainland in the same month, and Lee Po disappeared from Hong Kong in December.

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Their disappearances sparked fears that they had been kidnapped by Chinese agents because their companies specialised in gossip about China’s leadership.

All five later reappeared in custody on the mainland, claiming they had gone there voluntarily.

Lam returned to Hong Kong in June 2016 and claimed that he was kidnapped by Chinese agents at the border and put through eight months of “mental torture”.

The bookseller has said publicly since his return to Hong Kong that he wanted to open a bookstore in Taiwan as a symbol of resistance against the Chinese authorities.

Taiwan is a self-ruled island, but China considers it a breakaway Chinese province, to be reunified by force if necessary.

Lam said on Monday that the Hong Kong businessman first approached him near the end of 2016 through mutual friends, saying that he was interested in opening a bookstore with him in Taiwan.

“I have visited Taiwan many times to look for locations to open the bookstore,” Lam said. “But that’s fine. I understand he is under pressure not to go ahead with the plan.”

Lam said he could continue to look for partners to open the bookstore with him.

The businessman had not told Lam how much he could commit to the bookstore. Lam said he believed the man wanted to set up shop in Taiwan because he wanted to eventually emigrate there.

Since his return to Hong Kong, Lam has appeared at numerous pro-democracy protests in the city and has spoken about his encounters at overseas forums.

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“I have been very careful these days wherever I go. But nothing bad has happened to me so far,” he said.

Of the five booksellers, Gui is the only one who remains on the mainland.

In February, the Ministry of Public Security confirmed that it had detained Gui. The ministry said Gui was detained on suspicion that he had leaked secrets abroad.

Human rights activists have challenged the authorities’ claims, questioning how he could have obtained such documents. They have called on the authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Gui.