The last missing associate of a Hong Kong publishing company unexpectedly reappeared today (Feb. 29) in a video interview with a group of pro-Beijing news outlets. After dismissing rumors that he had been abducted by Chinese officials, Lee Bo announced that he intended to give up his UK citizenship.
Lee Bo is the co-owner of the Hong Kong publisher Mighty Current, known for books critical of China’s government. He disappeared on Dec. 30, and became the fifth missing person linked to the publisher.
The disappearances sparked unprecedented accusations of Beijing meddling in Hong Kong’s judicial independence, as the missing associates are widely believed to have been abducted by Chinese officials. Days after he went missing, Lee reportedly sent a fax to his colleague to say he was helping with an investigation on the mainland. “Helping with an investigation” is a common refrain among Chinese mainlanders who have vanished—sometimes for months at a time— and then reappeared.
Tonight’s interview is Lee Bo’s first public appearance after more than a month. Lee, who appeared to be in good spirits in front of the camera, was interviewed on the mainland by a group of journalists from state-owned online publication the Paper, and Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing newspaper Sing Tao Daily and television program Phoenix TV. Phoenix TV aired the interview in its evening news program while the Paper published a Q&A article (link in Chinese) about the interview.
Addressing the camera, Lee said that he volunteered to go to the mainland to assist in an official investigation linked to the Mighty Current, echoing his earlier fax. He said he smuggled himself to the mainland because he didn’t want to leave any official record, out of concern for his family’s safety. Lee, who holds Hong Kong and UK passports, added that he didn’t want to be used as “a tool for political activities” and had therefore decided to withdraw his UK citizenship after discussing with his wife.
Because Lee is a dual citizen, the UK has asked Chinese and Hong Kong authorities about his whereabouts and urged the Hong Kong government to honor its “commitment” to press freedom. According to the Paper’s report, Lee said the UK’s reaction is “a misjudgment and misinterpretation based on wrong information.” ”I have absolutely never turned to Britain for any help,” Lee reportedly said. “I always think I am a Hong Konger, a Chinese.”
On Sunday (Feb. 28), four of the five missing booksellers—including Mighty Current’s Swedish owner Gui Minhai—confessed to crimes of “illegal business operation” in an aired program on Phoenix TV. According to a Sunday report in the Paper, Mighty Current sold over 4,000 banned titles to 380 mainland customers since October 2014.
Media reports at the time of his disappearance suggested that Lee had been taken away onto a truck by several unidentified men on the day he went missing. According to the Paper’s report, Lee refuted these claims. He also noted that he would not take any further interviews.