HONG KONG • China agreed yesterday to talks with Hong Kong in the wake of explosive revelations by a city bookseller who said he was detained for eight months on the mainland, as fears grow that Beijing is tightening its grip.
Mr Lam Wing Kee was one of five staff of a Hong Kong firm - which published gossipy books about leading Chinese politicians - to go mysteriously missing last year. All later emerged in mainland China.
Mr Lam, 61, has said he was seized after crossing the border into Shenzhen, taken away blindfolded and then kept in a cell, under interrogation and without access to his family or a lawyer, for alleged involvement in bringing banned books into the mainland.
Hong Kong's Beijing-backed chief executive Leung Chun Ying, who has been accused of dragging his feet over the case, said last week he had written to Beijing relaying local concerns, amid growing anxiety that the semi-autonomous city's freedoms are disappearing.
In a short statement yesterday, Mr Leung said he had received a reply from Beijing "to start discussion on the existing notification mechanism between the two places".
Under that system, the authorities on the mainland are required to give clear details about arrests and detentions of Hong Kong citizens over the border, a procedure that critics say went disastrously wrong in the bookseller case.
Hong Kong's freedoms are protected by the Basic Law, a mini-Constitution that includes the "inviolable" freedom of Hong Kong people from arbitrary arrest and search. The Chinese authorities have repeatedly said they would never do anything illegal and that Hong Kong's autonomy is fully respected.
Beijing's public security ministry confirmed the discussions on the case should take place as soon as possible. "The existing notification mechanism has been in operation for more than a decade and (it is necessary to improve it)," it said in a statement, inviting Hong Kong to send a delegation to Beijing.
During the talks, the authorities in the mainland would also brief Hong Kong about Mr Lam's case, the statement said.
Mr Leung expressed gratitude for what he described as a "positive response". He said last week that he had asked Beijing to clarify how relevant mainland departments handle cases in which Hong Kong people have broken mainland laws, and whether or not mainland personnel had carried out cross-border law enforcement in the city.
In the case of bookseller Lee Bo, the only one of the five to disappear on Hong Kong soil, China was accused of illegally sending its security agents to operate in Hong Kong.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS