Taiwan presidential candidates seek answers on HK booksellers

Mr Lee Bo, 65, a major shareholder in Causeway Bay Books, is one of the five booksellers feared detained by Chinese authorities. He disappeared last week and was last seen in Hong Kong, where he is a resident.
Mr Lee Bo, 65, a major shareholder in Causeway Bay Books, is one of the five booksellers feared detained by Chinese authorities. He disappeared last week and was last seen in Hong Kong, where he is a resident. PHOTO: SCMP

Opposition, KMT hopefuls want HK, China to explain disappearances

TAIPEI • Taiwan's presidential front runner Tsai Ing-wen has urged the authorities in Hong Kong and Beijing to explain the disappearance of five Hong Kong booksellers feared detained by Chinese authorities.

The missing men all worked for the same Hong Kong-based publishing house known for books critical of the Chinese government, in a case that has sparked anger in the city.

Dr Tsai's comments come the week before an election in which she is tipped to unseat the Beijing-friendly ruling Kuomintang (KMT) party, raising questions over cross-strait relations.

Dr Tsai, who leads the Beijing-sceptic opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), has said she wants to preserve the "status quo" with China if she becomes president.

CLEAR ANSWER SOUGHT

The Hong Kong or Chinese authorities must provide a clear answer... as pursuit of democracy and freedom is a universal ideal.

MR ERIC CHU, KMT presidential candidate on the missing booksellers

But opponents say she would destabilise ties.

The DPP traditionally leans towards asserting independence, which has never formally been declared by Taiwan.

"(I) hope that Hong Kong and Beijing authorities... will give a clear explanation," Dr Tsai said yesterday at a campaign event in Taipei.

"At the same time, (they) should implement concrete measures to ensure freedom of speech in Hong Kong," she said.

"Taiwanese people care deeply about freedom of speech because Taiwan, after all, went through a very difficult period to win our freedom of speech."

The island was under martial law until 1987.

Large-scale protest movements flared in both Hong Kong and Taiwan in 2014, with protesters angry at growing Chinese influence.

Taiwan split from China in 1949 after a civil war on the mainland, but Beijing still considers it part of its territory awaiting unification, by force if necessary.

Hong Kong is semi-autonomous after it was handed back to China by Britain in 1997 and enjoys freedoms unseen on the mainland, but there are increasing fears those are under threat.

The KMT's China-friendly policy has been a major source of criticism.

But its presidential candidate Eric Chu also voiced concern on Tuesday about the disappearances.

"The Hong Kong or Chinese authorities must provide a clear answer... as pursuit of democracy and freedom is a universal ideal," he said during a campaign event in southern Taiwan, according to the Apple Daily.

Yesterday, Britain's Foreign Secretary said any abduction of people from Hong Kong to face charges elsewhere would be an "egregious breach" of Beijing's promises to rule the former British colony.

Mr Philip Hammond told reporters at the end of a two-day visit to Beijing that there had been "no progress" on determining the booksellers' whereabouts after raising the case with Chinese and Hong Kong officials.

"It would not be acceptable for someone to be spirited out of Hong Kong in order to face charges in a different jurisdiction," Mr Hammond said.

Pressed on the issue, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying told a regular briefing that China opposes "any foreign country interfering with China's domestic politics, or interfering with Hong Kong affairs".

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 07, 2016, with the headline 'Taiwan candidates seek answers on HK booksellers'. Print Edition | Subscribe