Returned HK bookseller plans to open new Taiwan bookshop

Returned HK bookseller plans to open new Taiwan bookshop

Returned Hong Kong bookseller Lam Wing-kei, one of five booksellers taken into custody in 2015 for selling books critical of China's political elite, is opening a new bookshop in Taiwan to combat "forcible control by mainland China".

Despite his eight-month detention beween October 2015 and June 2016 for his involvement with Causeway Bay Books, according to Radio Free Asia Lam is determined to open a new incarnation of the bookshop in Taiwan as "a focal point for anyone opposed to the Communist Party regime in Beijing, its growing control of Hong Kong and its creeping influence in Taiwan".

"Our aim with this bookstore is to raise consciousness among the general population, their general level of education, [that] there is a shared issue that is common both to Hong Kong and Taiwan: forcible control by mainland China," Lam told RFA

Hong Kong is part of China, but it is supposed to be able to operate automously under the "One Country, Two Systems" framework, allowing its citizens the right to free speech. Internationally concerns have been voiced that the booksellers' abductions demonstrate a violation of this principle. 

In contrast, Taiwan's leaders see Taiwan as a sovereign state whereas China sees it as a breakaway province that will eventually be part of the country again. Tensions escalated with the 2016 election of Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen from the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party and, lately including this month, China has been conducting military drills near the self-governed island.

"Right now, China is anything but open, and a lot of people are saying that it is reversing recent progress," said Lam. "China is becoming something we don't want to see, so we ought to get to work on that."

Lam plans to open the shop in Taiwan's old-town district of Ximending in September. However, he told RFA the new store was unlikely to continue shipping books to mail-order customers in mainland China - the suspected reason for his abduction in October 2015. Since his return in June 2016, Lam has given interviews to say he was interrogated for months about which Chinese citizens were buying books from the Causeway Bay store and the publishing house Mighty Current. 

The whereabouts of fellow bookseller Gui Minhai remain unclear, after he was first released, but then seized by Chinese agents again aboard a train bound for Beijing on suspicion of sharing secret information with Swedish diplomats. A letter from his daughter to the South China Morning Post last week criticised its coverage of a government-organised interview given by Gui in February in which he expressed regret for allowing himself to be "Sweden's chess piece". 

"Over these past 2½ years, I have slowly come to accept the very real possibility that I may not see my father ever again," his daughter Angela Gui wrote last week.

The campaign for Gui's release, supported by the International Publishers Association (IPA) and freedom of speech organisations such as PEN, continues. He was awarded the IPA's Prix Voltaire earlier this year.