Was billionaire Xiao Jianhua abducted or did he return to the mainland voluntarily? Many people have already jumped to conclusions. Some are comparing his disappearance to that of five Hong Kong booksellers last year, who reappeared across the border "to assist in investigations" while claiming to have done so voluntarily.
It's understandable that Xiao's case has attracted international attention. He is one of China's richest people. If his abduction theory holds, it means no one in Hong Kong is safe from the long arm of Chinese law. But new reports about the case seem to indicate he went back to the mainland voluntarily.
Police said CCTV footage showed Xiao and two of his female bodyguards left the Four Seasons Hotel in Central on their own, without any sign of struggle. Citing unnamed sources, a Ming Pao report claimed the trio were seen travelling in a car across the border at the Lok Ma Chau checkpoint with no one else inside. Of course, it all depends on who you believe.
According to the anti-communist Apple Daily, mainland agents hired local triads to abduct Xiao. Some overseas newspapers reported that the agents themselves jumped an entourage of female bodyguards at the hotel to get their man.
All we really know is that Xiao had been living in the lap of luxury for some time at the Four Seasons with his female bodyguards but is now back on the mainland assisting the authorities with their investigations. Meanwhile, it appears that all the possibilities of how he got from here to there have been reported as "facts" by different news outlets.
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With so many unknowns, how should we react? The responses of the two dark horses in Hong Kong's leadership race are quite sensible. Retired judge Woo Kwok-hing said the government must take a stand to defend Hong Kong people from arbitrary or unlawful arrest or detention. However, he admitted he didn't know enough about the case to draw a conclusion.
Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, a former secretary for security, said Hong Kong and the mainland needed a transfer-of-suspects agreement. She is right. If there had been such a deal, Xiao presumably wouldn't have been hiding in Hong Kong. Even if he did, formal steps could be taken to detain and transfer him back to the mainland without generating the current controversy.
Commentary by Alex Lo of the South China Morning Post.