A bookstore that closed down in Hong Kong after five booksellers were detained by China has reopened in democratic Taiwan in spite of attacks and threats.
Causeway Bay Books Taiwan, founded by exiled Hong Kong bookseller Lam Wing-kei, opened its doors to throngs of customers on Saturday, with a congratulatory bouquet sent by Taiwan's president Tsai Ing-wen.
"Wishing you a wide, rippling lake of fairness and a swift-flowing river of justice," read the inscription, in a reference to the treatment of Lam and his four former colleagues at the hands of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
The opening came just days after Lam was splattered with red paint in an attack believed to be carried out by supporters of Beijing.
"The reopening is very meaningful," Lam, who fled Hong Kong for fear of reprisals for speaking out in public following his release by Chinese police, told reporters on Saturday at the store's launch.
"Causeway Bay Books was destroyed by China through violent means," he said. "The reopening proves Taiwan is a place with freedom and democracy and we still have the right to read books."
But Lam said he believed the paint attack was instigated by Beijing, amid fears of growing Chinese influence in Taiwan.
"I strongly believe this is done by the CCP," he said last week, voicing suspicion that the attack was the work of pro-Beijing thugs, who are widely known to do the party’s bidding in Hong Kong and in Taiwan.
'Taiwan is the last bastion for Hong Kong people'
The store's launch was also attended by Yu Shyi-kun, President of Taiwan's parliament, the Legislative Yuan.
Lam thanked Yu for coming and highlighted his concerns about young people in Hong Kong as they continue to stage protests for political freedom and against police abuse of power since the anti-extradition movement began in June 2019.
"There are a lot of [young people from Hong Kong] here in Taiwan right now," Lam said, thanking the Taiwanese government for helping them.
"Taiwan is the last bastion for Hong Kong people," Lam said. "If Hong Kong people are oppressed in Hong Kong, they can still come to Taiwan."
"The fact that we can count on our friends in Taiwan and its government for help makes us feel that there is hope," he said.
Luo Wen-jia, secretary general of Taiwan's ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and also a bookstore owner, said he hoped that Lam would one day reopen Causeway Bay Books in Hong Kong.
Luo, who said he was there to represent the DPP on Saturday, said the store is welcome in Taipei, however.
"Freedom should belong to everyone, by right," he said. "We hope that everyone will get to breathe the air of freedom."
Chinese pressure backfires
Taiwanese historian Lee Hsiao-feng said the paint attack likely had the opposite effect to that intended by Beijing, as it gave Lam's store a welcome publicity boost just before the launch.
"I wonder how many supporters the Chinese Communist Party lost here in Taiwan when it ordered its aircraft to fly into Taiwan's [airspace] or when to sent its fifth column [of supporters] to throw paint?" Lee said.
"Are they trying to wake people up in Taiwan through the use of such violent tactics?"
Lam was among five booksellers detained by Chinese police for selling banned political books to customers across the internal border in mainland China.
The detentions were widely criticized by overseas governments and rights groups, as none of the booksellers had broken any laws in Hong Kong, where they lived and worked.
Two of the five were nationals of the U.K. and Sweden respectively. Both were taken to Chinese in dubious circumstances.
Reported by Hwang Chun-mei for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Chung Kuang-cheng for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.