In the grand tradition of Stalinist show trials, many weeks after the event Beijing has presented a televised explanation for the disappearance from Thailand of one of five employees of a Hong Kong publishing company, Causeway Bay Books. The company has been producing gossipy – and popular – books on mainland leaders and other sensitive topics. Gui Minhai, a Swedish citizen, disappeared from his apartment in the Thai resort of Pattaya in October and was the first of five to go missing, three soon after from Shenzhen and most recently Lee Bo, who runs the shop, vanished from Hong Kong.
(See related story: Kidnapped HK Publishers an Alarming Threat to Free Speech)
The story, as announced by Gui himself in a televised interview on state television, is that he voluntarily surrendered to mainland authorities out of remorse. According to the tale, Gui had been convicted of drunk driving in 2004 over an accident in Ningbo in which a student was killed. He had been given a suspended two-year sentence but supposedly left China though he should have remained until the end of the sentence.
Gui was quoted saying he was now willing to accept liability for his actions and be punished. Gui also asked Swedish authorities not to intervene in the case and leave it to him. “I truly feel I am still Chinese and my roots remain in China,” he said in a statement that seems to have been written for him by the race-conscious Beijing government.
The story is almost too incredible for words but follows a pattern of “confessions” by those who know that their only hope of eventual release is by agreeing to spout such nonsense for public consumption.
The “solving” of the Gui case now raises the issue of what other stories will be concocted to explain the other disappearances. In Hong Kong, the Chief Executive has been under pressure to extract an explanation from the mainland for Lee Bo’s disappearance. According to his wife, who has reported receiving messages from him, he is helping with investigations. But the mainland authorities have yet to cook up an explanation for how he came to be in some form of custody there even though he never officially left Hong Kong.
As for the three who disappeared in Shenzhen, there is no word.
No explanations will now convince the public outside China that the missing publisher cases are not high-profile evidence that officially sponsored kidnapping rather than correct legal procedure is the norm, and that no one in Hong Kong who sufficiently offends the leadership in Beijing is safe from the long arm of mainland public security thugs.