Let me start by saying that we don’t know a lot about what happened. Of course, I am appalled as everyone else with a moral conscious about the kidnappings. But I’ve been pondering the question of ‘why’ as the story becomes ever-weirder. We do have some emerging clues to work with. We can glue them together with some logical assumptions. Taken together, my theory is this: the Hong Kong publishers are involuntary witnesses to an inter-party feud/’discipline investigation.’ They will be likely be detained for as long as it takes to expose the entire network. This is probably enormously complex. How many degrees of separation exist between high-level cadres and the ‘sources’ provided to Mighty Current? The ‘hammer’ is coming down on whoever talked (or sent intermediaries) to Mighty Current about Xi’s rumored affairs, and the Mighty Current Hong Kongers are the only ones who know who their sources are.
To backtrack, what are the clues and logical assumptions we can make at this point? Starting with clues, here are some things that we know:
- The book that set the chain of events off was likely a tabloid-esque expose about a mistress Xi supposedly had (while married).
- The current regime is intentionally producing a climate of fear, especially concerning controlling information and the media.
- When the regime intends to charge and imprison people during a crackdown, they’ve been increasingly making their intentions known relatively early on: op-ed smearing, forced confessions, etc.
- At least two of the five Hong Kong abductees have been allowed contact with their family; with Lee, it seemed explicitly designed to comfort his wife by saying (a) he [probably] would come home, (b) an overheard voice saying everything will be okay if he ‘cooperates.
- All of those abducted come from Mighty Current, which published sensational books about the intrigues and private lives of our favorite secretive authoritarian regime. These books should be seen independently of their far more popular bookshop/cafe, from which I’ve bought two books.
- Their books are considered unreliable – mainly gossip tabloid. As Hemlock and I both suspect, they weren’t just inventing things from thin air – they were being fed rumors from different high-level cadres and cliques within the CCP. Note, for instance, that two of the missing had wives in Shenzhen. Why did they feel safe in China unless they had some high-level protection? Others have noted that the Xi-clique has used publications like Mighty Current to take down Bo Xilai.
- It is reasonable to assume some anti-Xi clique or cadre was supplying Mighty Current with stories for the book. Xi, it should be noted, has gone out of his way to present himself as clean and incorruptible – not the sort that would cheat on his beautiful celebrity wife.
- The missing Hong Kongers have every incentive not to ‘spill the be for any cadre caught passing HK writers ‘rumors’ (and possibly straight lies) about the New Chairman.
- If the intention is to eventually return these publishers, it would look very bad if they come home claiming torture or mistreatment.
Assuming my theory correct, it would imply three scenarios. First, maybe this was ordered directly by Xi or the people around him. Alternately, some CCP clique did this to bolster their own image with Xi – something akin to your cat bringing dead birds to your doorstep. Third, given how disastrous this entire operation has become, maybe an anti-Xi clique organized this to smear Xi. A fourth assumption is that all three of these scenarios might be disguised through the use of triads as intermediaries.
So why Lee, why now? It’s difficult to explain because he previously claimed to know nothing about the new book – that was Gui’s work. Maybe it was intended as an intimidation tactic to make Gui talk more. Maybe they’re amping up some version of the ‘prisoner’s dilemma’ by getting different versions of events from the different players and cross-checking them to find inaccuracies or lies. Or, as the third scenario posits, a legal ‘red line’ was intentionally crossed to embarrass Xi.