Pursuing critics, China reaches across borders. And nobody is stopping it.

Pursuing critics, China reaches across borders. And nobody is stopping it.
By Emily Rauhala and Simon Denyer
Jan 26 2016

BEIJING — China’s campaign against dissent is going global.

Amid extraordinary moves to rein in criticism at home, Chinese security personnel are reaching confidently across borders, targeting Chinese and foreign citizens who dare to challenge the Communist Party line, in what one Western diplomat has called the “worst crackdown since Tiananmen Square.”

A string of incidents, including abductions from Thailand and Hong Kong, forced repatriations and the televised “confessions” of two Swedish citizens, has crossed a new red line, according to diplomats in Beijing. Yet many foreign governments seem unwilling or unable to intervene, their public response limited to mild protests.

The European Union is divided and appears uncertain about what to do. Hong Kong is in an uproar, with free speech under attack, activists looking over their shoulders and many people saying they feel betrayed by a lack of support from Britain.

“China seems bent upon broadcasting to the world its disdain for the rule of law,” said Jerome A. Cohen, a China legal scholar and professor at New York University.

[Televised ‘confession’ was absurd and incoherent — and that’s the point]

With Secretary of State John F. Kerry in Beijing, where he landed late Tuesday, the leaders of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, an independent U.S. government agency, have voiced alarm. The body’s chairman, Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.), said Friday that President Xi Jinping’s push toward “hard authoritarianism” threatens U.S.-China ties, a view echoed by his co-chairman, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).

“On Xi’s watch, Hong Kong’s autonomy is under threat, and Beijing’s reach is ever-expanding to include foreign soil and foreign nationals living, working and doing business in China,” said Rubio, a presidential candidate. “President Xi is ruling by fear, not by the rule of law.”

Before this became a story about cross-border abductions, televised confessions and China’s long, throttling reach, it was a story about a book — a gossipy work on Xi’s love life. The book, which has not been published, is said to allude to the alleged girlfriends the president had before he took office.

It was to have been issued in the semiautonomous Chinese city of Hong Kong by a small publishing house, Mighty Current Media, whose name seems to foreshadow the rush of abductions by Chinese security forces that has swept up five men associated with the firm, including two foreign nationals.

On Oct. 17, Gui Minhai, a Hong Kong-based publisher and naturalized Swedish citizen, vanished from his 17th-floor vacation condominium in Thailand. Days later, three Mighty Current employees disappeared while visiting the Chinese city of Shenzhen.

In late December, Lee Bo, a British citizen, was apparently abducted from a warehouse in Hong Kong — an action that appeared to violate the “one country, two systems” principle Beijing pledged to uphold after taking control of the city from Britain in 1997. In a series of odd communications with his wife, Lee said he was “assisting with an investigation” in China and that “everything is fine.”


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