Beijing won't give full account: Expert

Hong Kongers may march and protest. But Beijing will not be giving a full accounting of what happened in the saga of the booksellers.

This, said Professor Lau Siu Kai, is because the incident involved "national security" and "state secrets".

The Hong Kong-based vice-chairman of Beijing's top think-tank on Hong Kong affairs is viewed as a key spokesman for the central government on the city.

Yesterday, he offered his analysis of Beijing's calculations, in what seems to be shaping up to be the establishment narrative to fend off demands for an explanation.

It comes as the pro-government Sing Tao newspaper ran an "exclusive" interview with bookseller Lam Wing Kee's girlfriend rejecting his assertions.

Prof Lau told The Straits Times that Beijing views the books sold by Causeway Bay Books as "very damaging to national security".

Hong Kongers may dismiss them as political gossip, but they are seen as destabilising within the mainland. "They disseminated incorrect or harmful information about the Chinese leadership and the inner circle. There is a lot of smearing and character assassination."

Internal Chinese politics and the "threat" that China is facing on the international stage also means that the Chinese leadership takes the books seriously, he said.

This is especially since they have been growing in popularity within China, with at least a 10-fold increase in sales in the past decade.

As for what "state secrets" the incident might involve, he declined to say whether he was referring to the "central special investigation unit", which Mr Lam said was behind his detention. Some observers said this secretive unit reports directly to the Chinese top leadership.

But many Hong Kongers will likely view the recourse to "state secrets" as an excuse to dodge giving a full explanation for the mysterious episode, which has seen five booksellers disappear for months before resurfacing on the mainland where they confessed to various crimes such as drink driving.

But there will be "no satisfactory information from Beijing", Prof Lau said. The Hong Kong government will also be able to do nothing, except say it will continue to pursue the matter, he added.

"So what we can see is a deadlock and only time will dilute the matter. It will take a long time."

Li Xueying

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 20, 2016, with the headline 'Beijing won't give full account: Expert'. Print Edition | Subscribe