Hong Kong must raise the case of bookseller Lee Bo with Beijing, and establish whether cross-border law enforcement was involved, a veteran commentator has said.

Ching Cheong said it was a “big trap” that Hong Kong society focused the discussion on cross-government communication when a Hong Kong person was detained on the mainland, after a high level government delegation recently visited Beijing’s Public Security Bureau for talks on improving the notification mechanism.

“The most serious question for us was whether the mainland’s ‘powerful agencies‘ enforced law in Hong Kong,” Ching said at a RTHK City Forum programme on Sunday. “It was the highest level meeting in some ten years, but the case of Lee Bo was not even talked about.”

Lee Bo
Lee Bo. Photo: Phoenix TV screenshot.

Lee Bo went missing from Hong Kong last December, then showed up on the mainland claiming that he voluntarily went there for an investigation, although there was no record of him leaving Hong Kong.

His colleague Lam Wing-kee, who also went missing and recently returned from detention by a special unit in China, claimed Lee was kidnapped.

Ching said the agenda of the meeting was agreed by both parties, according to the government. “It would be a gross neglect of duty if the Hong Kong team did not mention [Lee Bo],” he said.

Ching Cheong
Ching Cheong. File

Another possibility was that Hong Kong officials raised the issue, but mainland authorities refused to talk about it, Ching said: “then it would mean the notification mechanism was ineffective from day one.”

The government was notified of both Lee and Lam’s detention weeks after the usual 14 days period.

They were detained for their bookstore Causeway Bay Books’ operation of sending “banned” books critical of the Chinese government to mainland customers, though Lam had said the action was legal in Hong Kong. There is no official list of “banned” books.

Lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun, also a Hong Kong member of the National People’s Congress, said it would be counted as cross-border law enforcement from Hong Kong’s point of view if mainland agents appeared in Hong Kong in an official capacity.

He said he had written to the Congress three times since January asking for clarification on cross-border law enforcement incidents, but he has yet to receive a reply.

Lam Wing-kee
Lam Wing-kee. Photo: HKFP.

Lam Wing-kee said two officers of the unit accompanied him before he crossed the border to Hong Kong and was required to check in with them afterwards.

Lawmaker James To Kun-sun, who has been helping Lam since his return, said the question was whether the Hong Kong police needed to be notified when mainland officers appeared in Hong Kong for missions.

“If not, then there will be public security officers everywhere [in Hong Kong],” he said.

He said the Hong Kong police must investigate the case of Lee Bo, and the mainland authorities must ensure that their officers respect the One Country, Two Systems principle. He said that the public would only feel assured if violations were punished.

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.