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Will North Korean-style ‘kidnapping terrorism’ become a fact of life in Hong Kong?

By Cheng Lap

In the 1970s and 1980s, North Korea continuously kidnapped Japanese citizens. The victims never entered North Korea themselves, but were abducted from outside of the country.

Some were kidnapped while studying in Europe. Others were taken on Japanese soil, vanishing as they took seaside strolls and then suddenly reappearing in the DPRK. For decades, Pyongyang denied the kidnappings—all the way until 2002. Before this confession came, the kidnappings could only be described as “suspected,” since North Korean authorities vehemently denied all allegations.

Similar incidents have now begun to take place in Hong Kong. Several staff from a Hong Kong bookstore—from owner to employee to shareholder—have all disappeared one after the other, in a matter of mere months.

causeway bay books

Causeway Bay Books. Photo: Stand News.

One went missing in Thailand; others in Shenzhen. This has been going on for months, but only others in the publishing community have taken notice—until one shareholder went missing from Hong Kong without any departure record, and alleged messages began showing up to say he was safe. Now, media worldwide have tuned in.

These abnormal “mass disappearances,” if they involved the setting of traps, could be defined as “suspected serial kidnappings.”

That is to say, a wave of suspected kidnappings has hit Hong Kong: a number of local residents, including one Swedish and one UK national, have disappeared in quick succession, with signs that they have left the territory.

In this city, described as one of the safest in the world, the spectre of cross-border kidnappings has awakened the fears of not only Hong Kong people, but also foreign nationals living here. Anyone could be at risk of disappearing, for any number of reasons.

Lee Bo

Lee Bo. File Photo: Apple Daily.

Hong Kong society has always relied on trust in its judicial system and the safety of life under its police force to maintain its status as a financial centre. These two conditions have been seriously challenged by this incident, however. Until this matter is resolved, the international community cannot trust Hong Kong to protect either their citizens nor their capital.

No-one has demanded a ransom for the booksellers, according to the information publicly available. Assuming that this is not all a matter of coincidence, kidnapping like this is even more threatening that the kind we are most familiar with.

Motivated by ideology and politics rather than money, such acts have fallen within the realm of terrorism. What’s more, international terrorist activities are being organised to deprive Hongkongers of their personal freedom and spirit them outside of the territory.

Hong Kong-Shenzhen border

Hong Kong-Shenzhen border

This type of kidnapping are not unlike that committed by the Islamic State. Now, Hong Kong and its people have become targets for international terrorist activities. If any organisation is allowed to abduct Hong Kong people for political reasons if and when it likes, the Hong Kong government will not be able to explain it away.

It is difficult to verify the rumours that have emerged from this incident. What we know so far only leaves us with more mysteries and potential scandals. How did the missing individuals leave Hong Kong? if they show up in Hong Kong again, where did they enter the city from? How is this matter related to the country they stayed in before returning to Hong Kong?

Only when these missing people safely return to Hong Kong can the matter be settled. Otherwise, things will only take a turn for the worse.

Cheng Lap is the game designer of “Age of 1911” which was banned in China, and the latest game “Glory Chronicle” about Hong Kong in the 1980s. A former teacher, he is also a columnist in Hong Kong’s Ming Pao and Taiwan’s United Daily News online opinion page. His posts on the popular Taiwanese forum PTT were published as the book “Do you have gossips about XXX” in Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Will North Korean-style 'kidnapping terrorism' become a fact of life in Hong Kong?