Wall Street Journal
- Beijing’s message to critics: Our agents will snatch you anywhere
Chinese dissident journalist Li Xin went missing on Jan. 11 in Thailand. On Wednesday he phoned his wife from China, telling her, “I came back to China willingly to face investigation.” Mr. Li’s wife, He Fangmei, wasn’t fooled. “I know it was all their words, and that Li Xin was speaking against his wishes,” she told the Journal.
Ms. He is right to be skeptical. In recent months several Chinese dissidents have disappeared from Thailand and Hong Kong and reappeared in mainland police custody. At least two say they went to China of their own free will and the world shouldn’t interfere—words their friends and family say were spoken under duress.
Gui Minhai, a Hong Kong publisher of dissident books who holds a Swedish passport, disappeared from Thailand on Oct. 17. Thai authorities say they had no record of him leaving the country. Mr. Gui made a contrite appearance on Chinese state television on Jan. 17 and said he returned to China voluntarily to face charges from a 2003 drunk-driving case. Three of Mr. Gui’s colleagues went missing while visiting China in October.
Another of Mr. Gui’s colleagues, Lee Bo, told reporters he wasn’t afraid as long as he stayed in Hong Kong. Famous last words. He was last seen at his Hong Kong warehouse on Dec. 30, and the local government has no record of him crossing the border to China. Mr. Lee telephoned his wife from Shenzhen to say he is assisting police with an investigation, and he has since written two letters saying he doesn’t want assistance. Mr. Lee is British, but neither he nor Mr. Gui have been allowed to meet with consular officials.
On Monday the U.S. State Department’s John Kirby expressed concern over the threat to Hong Kong’s autonomy posed by the disappearance of the five booksellers. “We urge China to clarify the current status of all five individuals and the circumstances surrounding their disappearances and to allow them to return to their homes,” he said.
Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Lu Kang responded angrily that other countries have no right to comment because Hong Kong is part of China. He didn’t deny that Chinese officials were behind the disappearances but said they haven’t broken any foreign laws. “If we need to have certain law enforcement cooperation with other countries’ governments, this is done in agreement with both sides in accordance with the law,” he said.
It’s possible the Thai government allowed the abductions of Messrs. Gui and Li. Bangkok has remained largely silent on the disappearances, and it has done Beijing’s bidding before. In November the Thais repatriated two Chinese asylum seekers, Dong Guangping and Jiang Yefei, though the United Nations had agreed to resettle them in a third country. In July Bangkok forcibly returned 109 Uighur refugees to China’s northwest Xinjiang region.
Mainland security officials have long operated in Hong Kong without local permission. The abduction of Mr. Lee appears to be the first case of its kind, but Chinese police have grabbed people from Macau. Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has politicized the police department, so it wouldn’t be surprising if some officers work with their mainland counterparts to monitor China’s critics.
Beijing seems willing to accept harm done to its international reputation by ignoring the laws of extradition. The message sent at home is clear: If you oppose the Communist Party, there is nowhere in the world you can hide.