Sun, Feb 19, 2017 - Page 6 News List

EDITORIAL: Beijing paranoia has wide reach

In late January, Xiao Jianhua (肖建華), one of China’s wealthiest businessmen, left the Hong Kong Four Seasons serviced apartment in which he had been staying since 2014 and crossed the border to China.

According to reports, Xiao was removed from the hotel in a wheelchair, his head covered in a blanket. It is unclear whether he left Hong Kong through normal channels, on his own steam, or was taken over the border covertly by Chinese security operatives.

Comparisons were quickly made between this incident and the 2015 abductions of people connected to Hong Kong’s Causeway Bay Books, again raising concerns over Beijing’s intervention in the territory and the Hong Kong government’s apparent inability to stand up to it.

China’s internal security services are not allowed to operate in Hong Kong. There is as yet no extradition agreement between the territory and China. It is believed that Xiao had been a resident in the Four Seasons for so long precisely because he thought he would be beyond Beijing’s reach.

Xiao, known as “the de facto banker to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) elite,” ingratiated himself with the party when, as a student leader, he opposed the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. He built a vast and complex fortune through connections with former Chinese president Jiang Zemin’s (江澤民) Shanghai faction, which Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) has been targeting in his anti-corruption campaign in an attempt to consolidate his power. Since then, Xiao has apparently expanded his portfolio to include companies with affiliations to Xi’s family. Certain observers have thought that, by doing business with multiple political factions, Xiao was safe.

Not so. It has been suggested that, in the run-up to the CCP’s National Congress later this year, Xi finds Xiao’s destabilizing potential disturbing.

There are as yet no definitive answers explaining why Xiao was removed to China, nor are there for the reasons behind the bookstore abductions.

The store was known for salacious publications involving the Chinese elite. Were the abductions punishment? Were the authorities after the writers’ sources, or the customer list, or were they trying to intimidate the staff to not publish a certain book?

Xi appears to be utterly ruthless in his campaign against political rivals, irrespective of whether they are rich and powerful or run a small bookstore in Hong Kong peddling gossip that could involve him.

These abductions, if that is what they are, involve human rights issues. For Taiwanese people, however, they are not just about human rights issues in the abstract way that should trouble any concerned international citizen, in terms of what is right and what ought to be protected. There is a real possibility that, at some unknowable remove in the future, Taiwan could be run according to a “one country, two systems” model with a similar “50-years-no-change” condition to the assurances former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平) gave the British for the Hong Kong handover 20 years ago. If that happens, Taiwanese might also be subjected to such intimidation tactics, feverishly anticipating a knock on the door in the middle of the night. That is a sobering prospect.

You could argue that Xiao, like Icarus, flew too close to the sun. You could take issue with the route in which he attained the heights he found himself, and say that risks come with the territory. You might argue that the Hong Kong bookseller was engaged in writing and publishing salacious tattle, but what of it?

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