Hong Kong’s freedom to publish is facing Chinese intervention, former Causeway Bay Books manager Lam Wing-kei (林榮基) said on Thursday, as he urged Taiwanese to take to the streets should Beijing attempt something similar here.
Speaking at a Taipei forum on independent bookstores in Taiwan and Hong Kong, Lam said that Hong Kong’s bookstores have slowly become “culturally isolated” following the territory’s return to China in 1997.
Prior to that, there were many independent dealers, who were the primary importers of books, including Taiwanese works, to Hong Kong, Lam said.
Since 1997, smaller dealers have shut down either due to the economic slump or mismanagement, while larger dealers, such as Joint Publishing, Commercial Press and Chung Hwa Book Co (Hong Kong), have Chinese investment, Lam said.
Such investment has led to dealers being more selective about the books they import, he said, adding that Taiwanese firm Avanguard Publishing was an example of a publisher that was blacklisted.
Books published by Avanguard focus on Taiwanese identity and culture, and in essence lean toward pursuing Taiwanese independence, Lam said.
Stores such as the Hong Kong Reader, which sells works focusing on Hong Kong research and changes in the territory’s economy, are in danger of being blacklisted as well, he said.
The 40-year-old Greenfield Bookstore has also not been doing well lately, he said, but added that with more attention on Hong Kong issues, publishers focusing on such topics should see business improve.
Lam told reporters after the event that Taiwan and Hong Kong faced similar oppression, but Taiwanese have not been attentive enough to freedom of speech issues and their voice against potential gagging has not been loud enough.
He called for more frequent exchanges between Taiwan and Hong Kong, as “Hong Kong’s future depends on Taiwan a lot.”
Maintaining the cross-strait “status quo” is the “smartest” approach, he said, adding that there is no need to accentuate the call for Taiwanese independence, as “Taiwan is already independent” from the perspectives of national defense, diplomacy and the electoral system.
Meanwhile, Mainland Affairs Council Deputy Minister Chiu Chui-cheng (邱垂正) said that the council had dispatched a team of more than 10 men for Lam’s protection since he arrived in Taiwan on Tuesday.
The council said there is a precedent for violence toward Hong Kongers like Lam after Hong Kong democracy advocate Joshua Wong (黃之鋒) was allegedly chased and attacked by “men in black” during a visit to Taiwan last month.
The protection arrangements were excellent, Lam said, adding in jest that they were “too good,” as he almost had no freedom.
The government respects civic interaction between Taiwan and Hong Kong, Chiu said, adding that it would not intervene in any of the events Lam plans to attend.
Additional reporting by CNA