The wife of a Hong Kong investor behind bookseller Lam Wing-kee’s plan to set up a shop in Taiwan bore the brunt of threats from mainland Chinese authorities, leading to the venture’s failure, according to another partner.
The latest details were revealed by Lam’s partner from the self-ruled island. Last month, Lam, who claimed he was kidnapped by Chinese agents in 2015 for selling books critical of the authorities, said a Hong Kong businessman with investments across the border had pulled out of the store bid.
In an interview with the Post, Lam’s Taiwan partner confirmed both he and the local investor had shelved plans to open the bookstore following threats made to the latter’s family members by mainland agents.
“The Hong Kong investor’s wife runs factories on the mainland and therefore she was at the forefront of pressure,” the Taiwan partner said.
He said the woman received warnings from mainland authorities after plans for the bookstore were first announced in mid-March.
He added that while he did not receive any direct warnings from the mainland, he was urged by his own wife to withdraw, as she feared he might become the second Lee Ming-che, the Taiwanese democracy activist who went missing after going to the mainland in March 2017, only to surface later and be jailed for five years by a court in Hunan province for “subverting the state”.
“Officials in charge of Hong Kong and Macau affairs in Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council also advised me not to go to the mainland,” he said.
Lam’s partner said he was “scared” and decided to pull out when Ta Kung Pao, a state-owned Chinese newspaper in Hong Kong, revealed his personal details and reported on other people backing the bookstore plan in early May.
But the partner said disagreements among participants in the project, including how the store should be run in Taiwan, also contributed to the collapse of the plan.
“The [Hong Kong] investor suggested publishing some books written by Chinese activists living abroad before the actual store was set up. But Lam rejected the idea,” he said.
“Lam was planning to open a traditional bookstore selling serious books on Chinese politics, which most of today’s Taiwanese readers are not interested in.”
Lam, in response to the Taiwan investor’s comments, admitted there were different takes on the business strategy but denied it affected the partnership.
“The books the [Hong Kong] investor suggested were not of good quality. I don’t want to publish any political gossip any more. I think we should do things step by step, starting from reopening the store,” Lam said, adding he also intended to organise seminars and forums to engage readers.
During Lam’s visit to Taiwan in June, the partners had a meeting and decided to abort the project. But Lam said he would launch another bid in Taiwan.
“If we want to fight against the infiltration of ideologies promoted by the Chinese government, shouldn’t we first learn about the roots of these ideologies? It will be a process of enlightenment and we can contribute to that [by running a bookstore],” he said.
The Hong Kong investor, who is in his 70s, first approached Lam in 2016 to open a store in Taipei about six months after the bookseller returned to Hong Kong and claimed he was kidnapped by Chinese agents at the border.
Taiwan is a self-ruled island, but China considers it a renegade province, to be reunified by force if necessary.
Lam, formerly the store manager of Causeway Bay Books, was caught at the centre of a storm that gripped Hong Kong in 2015.
In that year, five associates of the bookstore and Mighty Current publishing house disappeared one after another.
Gui Minhai vanished from Thailand in October. In the same month, Lam, Cheung Chi-ping and Lui Por went missing from the mainland, and Lee Po disappeared from Hong Kong in December.
Their vanishing acts sparked fears they had been kidnapped by Chinese agents because of the books published by the company, which specialised in gossip on the Chinese leadership.
All five later reappeared in custody on the mainland, under investigation over their “illegal business” of delivering about 4,000 banned books from Hong Kong to 380 customers across the border since October 2014.