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Hong Kong Bookstores Scrap Banned Books After Bookseller Disappearances

Five booksellers linked to a company peddling politically sensitive material have disappeared in the last three months in the Asian Financial Hub.

Bookstores in Hong Kong have begun pulling literature banned in mainland China, after the mysterious disappearances of five booksellers linked to a company that had been selling politically sensitive books.

Page One, a Singapore-owned company that sells mainly English-language books, began removing certain texts in its eight chains in Hong Kong, shortly after the first of the booksellers associated with book publisher Mighty Current went missing, the South China Morning Post reported.


"We were told to take all politically sensitive books off the shelves in late November," a salesman at a Page One outlet told the Morning Post. "The manager did not tell us the reason, but said Page One would no longer sell banned books ever again."

Some of the books taken off shelves include those purportedly detailing the inner workings of the Communist party in texts like like The Secret Deals Between Xi Jinping and Bo Xilai, and others critical of the government or depicting salacious stories about party leaders. The books have generated top sales for Page One and Causeway Bay Books, which is run by Mighty Current.

Lee Bo, 65, a major shareholder in Causeway Bay Books, disappeared last Wednesday, around the same time the company was reportedly preparing to launch a book about Chinese President Xi Jinping's love life, focusing on one of his former girlfriends.

This week, a vague, faxed letter reportedly written by Lee to his wife surfaced. In it, Lee reportedly told her that "all is normal," and that he was on the mainland cooperating with an official investigation. The letter prompted Lee's wife to withdraw a police report Monday, but his current whereabouts remain unknown.

In October, four other men linked with Mighty Current also went missing under suspicious circumstances. Gui Minhai, a mainland-born Swedish national who co-owns the publishing company, disappeared while on holiday in Thailand on October 15. Lui Bo, Mighty Current's general manager, Cheung Jiping, the company's business manager, and Lam Wing-kei, who manages the bookstore, each disappeared separately in late October, after they visited Shenzhen, a city on the Chinese mainland across from Hong Kong.


The disappearances have stoked fears of mainland Chinese authorities using shadowy tactics that erode the "one country, two systems" formula under which Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997 after 150 years of British rule. Britain handed the global financial hub back to China under an agreement that its core liberties and way of life - including freedom of speech and an independent judiciary - continue for 50 years.

Related: Plot Thickens as Missing Hong Kong Bookseller Faxes Mysterious Message to Wife

On Wednesday, Britain's foreign secretary weighed in on the disappearances, saying any abduction of people from Hong Kong to face charges elsewhere would be an "egregious breach" of Beijing's promises about the former British colony.

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond told reporters at the end of a two-day visit to Beijing that there had been "no progress" on locating the booksellers 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," Hammond said. "It's an essential part of the settlement in Hong Kong that it has its own judicial system and it is solely responsible for trying offences that occur in Hong Kong."

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

Hong Kong Security Secretary Lai Tung-kwok said the territory was still awaiting a response from Chinese authorities on the fate of the men, and would ask again "if necessary".

On Tuesday, Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Lee "is first and foremost a Chinese citizen" when asked if China recognizes his British passport. He warned against "groundless speculation" but declined to give further details.