Fourth Causeway Bay Bookseller Reappears in Hong Kong, Sparking Questions

Lam Wing-kei follows a pattern similar to that of his colleagues who returned to China soon after asking that their missing persons files be closed.

Journalists wait outside a building entrance under a yellow sign that leads up to the Causeway Bay Books store which sells books on Chinese politics in Hong Kong, Feb. 1, 2016.

China has allowed the fourth of five missing Hong Kong booksellers to return to the city, where he requested that police close the file on his missing persons case.

Causeway Bay Books employee Lam Wing-kei appeared in the city for the first time since his disappearance last October, and his visit to Hong Kong followed a pattern set by three of his missing colleagues.

Store manager and British passport-holder Lee Bo, 65, made a brief appearance in the city in March, although he "did not provide thorough information about his last departure," which left no trace in official computer systems, police in the former British colony said at the time.

Lee, who went missing from his workplace in Hong Kong on Dec. 30, returned to mainland China after spending less than 24 hours in Hong Kong.

Cheung Chi Ping, business manager of Causeway Bay Books, entered Hong Kong on March 6, two days after his colleague Lui Bo, the bookstore’s general manager, but they too stayed only a few hours in the city before going back to China.

Both were granted bail by Chinese authorities, allowing them to travel to Hong Kong, according to a statement from Hong Kong police.

All three men had asked for their missing persons files to be closed.

Little to assuage concerns

Hong Kong political commentator Cai Yongmei said the reappearance of the four men has done little to assuage concerns that they are still under the control of the Chinese police.

"The disappearance of these people, who were spirited away to China in a cross-border law enforcement operation, is a breach of the one country, two systems principle and the Basic Law," Cai said in a reference to the agreements and laws governing Hong Kong's 1997 return to Chinese rule.

"Now, the mainland Chinese police are trying to pull the wool over our eyes by sending them back to Hong Kong to placate public anger," she said.

Cai said Hong Kong police had done nothing to investigate the mysterious border crossing made by Lee Bo, of which officials have no record.

Causeway Bay Books, which sold highly speculative political titles that often offered lurid details about the private lives of Chinese leaders, has been shuttered since the disappearances.

‘Heads on the chopping block’

Labor Party lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan, who heads the Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China, said Lam's reappearance is just as suspect as those of the other three men.

"The people of Hong Kong know perfectly well that the heads of the five Causeway Bay booksellers are on the chopping block, and that their troubles in mainland China aren't over," Lee told RFA on Wednesday.

"The Hong Kong government should pursue this with more determination and make solemn representations to the central government [in Beijing] for their assistance in this matter," he said.

But Ip Kwok-hin, a pro-establishment lawmaker and member of chief executive Leung Chun-ying's Executive Council, said the incident has been resolved, for now.

"One by one, the people involved have come back to have their missing persons cases canceled," Ip told RFA. "This shows that they weren't kidnapped or illegally taken to the mainland."

"The incident, in my view, has been resolved for the time being," he said.

Significant breach of policy

The United Kingdom government has said in an official report that Lee Bo was "involuntarily removed" from the city, which has maintained a separate law enforcement jurisdiction and an internal immigration border since returning to Chinese rule in 1997.

The U.S. State Department said in its Hong Kong Policy Act Report earlier this month that the booksellers' detentions "have raised serious concerns in Hong Kong and represent what appears to be the most significant breach of the “one country, two systems” policy since 1997."

Swedish national and bookstore founder Gui Minhai, who disappeared from a Thai holiday resort last October, has yet to reappear.

He is known to be in detention in China, after making a televised "confession" of involvement in a drunk-driving death 10 years ago that has been rejected as highly dubious by his family.

Gui Minhai's daughter Angela Gui, recently told the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) in Washington that her father unlikely left his holiday home in Thailand voluntarily, despite having said so in a televised "confession."

She said her father had sent her messages on Skype in November and in January, asking her to keep quiet, adding that he was "under duress."

Angela Gui maintains that her father was abducted by Chinese state agents from Thailand, and remains in unofficial and illegal detention somewhere in China, with no access to consular visits or legal representation.

Reported by Lam Kwok-lap for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Gao Shan for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.