Pro-Beijing heavyweight Elsie Leung says the missing Hong Kong bookseller case that shocked the city demonstrates increasing transparency. She also urged the public to look at China-Hong Kong issues positively.

Five publishers associated with Causeway Bay Books – known for selling political gossip titles banned in China – went missing in 2015 and resurfaced last year. One of them, Lee Bo, said he voluntarily “smuggled himself” into the mainland, though another bookseller Lam Wing-kee said he was kidnapped by a “central special unit” in China.

missing booksellers
Protests over the bookseller case. Photo: Todd Darling/HKFP.

Though the incident drew heavy criticism from rights watchdogs, Leung said there was no evidence that Chinese authorities had enforced their law in Hong Kong, on the basis that Lee said he “returned to the mainland by his own method.

“There was no violation of the One Country, Two Systems policy,” Leung said Friday in an interview with RTHK.

“You can actually see from the incident that society has become very transparent. If this had happened in the past, it would not even be discussed in society and people would not even know about it.”

To prevent similar incidents from happening in the future, Leung suggested signing a surrender of fugitive offenders agreement with China. Currently, China is not among the 19 jurisdictions that have made the arrangement with Hong Kong.

“Why don’t we think positively to solve the problem?” she added.

‘Full governance right’

Leung also said Beijing has the “full right to govern” Hong Kong: “How come after a long 20 years, some people still insist that the central government should not lay its hands on matters other than defence and foreign affairs?”

elsie leung
Elsie Leung. Photo: RTHK screenshot.

She said it is “very clear” from the Basic Law that Hong Kong is under the direct control of the Chinese government, which she said means Beijing has full governance rights over the semi-autonomous city.

“The precondition of this full governance is for Hong Kong to exercise its executive, legislative and judicial powers in accordance with the Basic Law,” Leung added.

Leung’s remarks are in-keeping with Beijing’s attempts to tighten its grip over Hong Kong. Last month, China’s no.3 official Zhang Dejiang caused an uproar after declaring Beijing’s power to give orders to the chief executive and “supervise” civil servants in terms of their allegiance to China.

Both the Chinese and Hong Kong governments often cite the Basic Law in justifying Beijing’s power over Hong Kong. The Education Bureau has recently required schools to teach 51 hours of Basic Law-related material to secondary school students.

basic law
Government promotion of the Basic Law. File Photo: GovHK.

Leung agreed that there is a need to strengthen Basic Law education in schools and in public. She added that having a better understanding of the mini-constitution could change Hong Kong people’s attitude towards the Article 23 anti-subversion law.

See also: ‘Who is the real chief executive?’: Uproar as Chinese leader declares power to give orders to Hong Kong

“People should not consider Article 23 to be an evil law or say it is an evil law even before finding out the details of the bill,” she said.

In 2003, around half a million people took to the street against the government’s attempt to legislate Article 23. The government has not since attempted to table a proposal, but the current administration and the pro-Beijing camp have recently raised the idea on numerous occasions.

Leung headed the Department of Justice between 1997 and 2005, and is now the deputy director of the national legislature’s Basic Law Committee.

Ellie Ng has written for Foreign Policy, the Daily Telegraph, Global Voices Online and others.