Random Thoughts on the reach of China’s law enforcement – lawlessness – across borders

Photo source:  inmediahk , flickr

Photo source: inmediahk, flickr

How far is the reach of China's law enforcement or lawlessness? All eyes, particularly those of Hong Kong people, are now on the case of the five missing Hong Kong publishing company managers. Among them, Mr Lee Bo apparently was secretly taken away in Hong Kong and transported to Shenzhen. If indeed the PRC secret police kidnapped this fellow and played similar illegitimate roles in detaining some of his publishing colleagues, one would want to know what caused the police to take such daring and unwise measures. Was this "bookstore" about to come out with a book PRC officials are desperate to prevent?

This incident makes me recall the infamous Jiang Nan murder case (Gangnam murder) when Taipei mobsters, in cahoots with the Republic of China's Ministry of National Defense intelligence chief, rubbed out the Chinese-American journalist Henry Liu on Oct 15, 1984 in San Francisco because he was preparing a book that would have come out with more dirty laundry about the Chiang Kai-shek family. That case added to the pressures for political reform of the Chiang family dictatorship in Taiwan. The current Lee Bo abduction case also has potentially broad implications possibly going beyond its great importance to Hong Kong.

It was reported that Lee Bo sent a handwritten note back to HK claiming that he had voluntarily returned to the mainland and was "assisting" in related investigations If the HK police believe this one, perhaps the famous - now crushed - human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng should write a letter to his wife telling her that he has been cooperating with an investigation all these years and is really in splendid shape. I have been advisor in a number of PRC criminal cases where the Lee Bo technique has been used not only in an effort to squelch publicity abroad but also to circumvent the PRC criminal procedure protections that are supposed to come into play if someone is formally detained under the criminal law rather than "volunteering" to cooperate. Kidnappers often use a similar technique to communicate with the victim's family.

We should ask why the PRC occasionally succumbs to the temptation to kidnap its citizens from HK or even foreign countries. It is because there are legal procedural barriers to transferring alleged offenders from Hong Kong or foreign jurisdictions to the Mainland. Even thoughHong Kong was returned to the Motherland in 1997, no agreement for "rendition" of wanted suspects between the two jurisdictions has yet been concluded. Hong Kong, like the US and many democratic countries confronted by the PRC's desire for an extradition-type agreement, has not found it politically possible to consent to send people to the Mainland for criminal trial because of the failure of Mainland justice to reach international due process standards. In the absence of an extradition-type formal agreement, sometimes the PRC and other jurisdictions are able to work out mutually acceptable ad hoc arrangements of an informal, but legal, nature. (See the recent ChinaFile discussion of this very current problem between the PRC and the US.) When that proves impossible, the PRC, and not only the PRC (cf. some US CIA "renditions" and kidnappings and remember Israel's pursuit of Eichmann), resorts to cruder techniques of various kinds, as Lee Bo's case demonstrates.