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Another chapter has been written in the life of former Hong Kong bookseller Lam Wing-kee, who was snatched by Chinese state security agents in 2015 and later escaped after being locked up for eight months.
Lam aimed to start a new bookshop in Taiwan, selling anecdotal-style publications about top Chinese leaders as he had done in Hong Kong. But now it appears that even in Taiwan he is not far enough away from the long reach of Beijing.
Lam, a former manager at a bookstore in Hong Kong’s bustling shopping precinct of Causeway Bay where he made his name selling “politically incorrect” titles banned in China, said in Taipei on Wednesday that his plan to reopen his store in Ximending – dubbed Taipei’s Causeway Bay – had not worked out.
Two potential investors in Taiwan, who had expressed a keen desire to be part of a joint venture in the new bookstore, later admitted they were representatives of Beijing. They pulled out of the deal at the last minute, Lam told the Taipei-based Liberty Times on Wednesday.
Lam went missing in October 2015 after entering mainland China via a border checkpoint and only resurfaced in custody in a massive detention center in the eastern city of Ningbo. He appeared in what was claimed to be a forced TV confession about publishing and smuggling illegal books into China, which aired in February the following year.
But in a dramatic twist, Lam was allowed to return to Hong Kong in June to cancel the missing persons report made by his wife at the local police station. And more importantly, he came back to get a computer disc containing lists of mainland buyers for his banned titles.
Lam decided not to return to the mainland and instead convened a high profile press conference with the help of Hong Kong’s democratic camp. He claimed Chinese agents were coming and going at will into Hong Kong, where they had no legal authority, and also spoke about their serial abductions of his colleagues in Hong Kong and abroad.
Amid the outcry, Lam said he had lost faith in the “One Country, Two Systems” constitutional arrangement which he said should have ensured liberty and freedoms for Hong Kong following its handover from London to Beijing in 1997.
Still wanted on the mainland, Lam then decided to close down the bookshop, pull up stakes and emigrate to Taiwan as Hong Kong was “no longer safe.”
Lam said in his interview on Wednesday in Taipei that his latest setback would not discourage him from opening a new bookstore there.
He said two people claiming to be stakeholders in a US-based social advocacy group approached him in March, saying they had already registered the company name “Causeway Bay Books” in Taiwan and proposed setting up a joint venture to run a shop there.
He then learned the group was affiliated with the Chinese embassy in the US. He said he could feel Beijing’s presence even in Taiwan and had hit one roadblock after another in his bid to continue selling books critical of China.
He aded that he became the subject of a smear campaign waged by Beijing-friendly newspapers in Hong Kong and Taiwan, which linked his business to advocating secessionism and independence for the two places. He said other potential investors came under pressure as they also ran businesses in China and Hong Kong.