Lam Wing-Kee: Re-opening the bookstore is my way to fight against the CCP

Causeway Bay Bookstore re-opened in Taiwan’s capital city Taipei on April 25, as media and customers flooded the small shop on the 10th floor of a commercial building. However, a few days before the re-opening, Lam suffered an unexpected attack and received a letter from a law firm, warning him not to use the name “Causeway Bay Bookstore” as he re-opens the shop. In an interview, Lam said he has done nothing wrong, but the attack has now made him become more cautious as his life continues in Taiwan.

Question: You have been to Taiwan for more than a year. How has your life or mental state changed over the last year?

Lam Wing-Kee: Hong Kong is now mostly run by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP,) so comparing to Hong Kong, Taiwan is very safe. The island has a democratically elected government, and it protects people’s human rights. On top of that, Taiwan is also a place with social justice, so when I first moved here, I felt very safe.

Our bookstore in Hong Kong was first intentionally destroyed by groups that have links to the CCP and then they bought us out, keeping a fake Causeway Bay Bookstore at the exact same location. This made me really want to re-open the Causeway Bay Bookstore in Taiwan.

In fact, the idea of re-opening the bookstore in Taiwan began in 2018, and at the time, we originally have some funders from Hong Kong. However, that guy conducts business in China, so they faced investigation from the government, which sabotaged our plan. Then another group of people with links to the CCP expressed interest in buying the bookstore, but of course I didn’t accept the offer.

When I first started planning to re-open the bookstore in Taiwan, I didn’t really have any money. Friends suggested that I tried crowdfunding, so I followed their suggestions to start a campaign. However, I didn’t realize that I would run into copyright issues when I am about to re-open the bookstore. The lawyer said my decision to call the bookstore “Causeway Bay Bookstore” has damaged his customers’ reputation and rights.

Then on April 21, three guys spilled red paint over me as I was dining at a nearby breakfast shop. This left me mentally traumatized, as I am not sure if more extreme attacks will happen to me in the future. I think this attack raised some questions about the effectiveness of Taiwan’s anti-infiltration act.

I know there are people in Taiwan’s legislature who opposed the passage of the anti-infiltration act. However, three prominent Hong Kongers have experienced physical attacks when they were here, so how can the government guarantee that the same things won’t happen to Taiwanese? It is of course possible that an irrational attack like this can happen to anyone in Taiwan.

I think the Taiwanese government needs to think about how they can improve the effectiveness of the anti-infiltration act. If they can make the law more complete, they can expose the dark forces behind the infiltration campaigns sponsored by the CCP, and prevent their agents from exporting their values to Taiwan.

Also, when the Legislative Yuan tries to pass similar laws in the future, I think Taiwanese people need to pay attention to which political parties support such law and which political parties oppose such law. They should consider withdrawing their support for political parties that don’t support anti-infiltration laws, because supporting those kind of parties means harming their own interests.

I truly hope Taiwan can make their anti-infiltration law more complete, because that’s one of the very important ways to safeguard Taiwanese people’s safety and prevent similar attacks from happening again.

Q: Do you think Taiwan is facing serious threats from China’s infiltration campaigns?

Lam: In fact, many assailants might think they didn’t physically hurt the victims, but their behaviors have already caused victims some mental trauma. The three assailants who attacked me on Tuesday have already been released on bail, so the government can’t guarantee that they won’t come attack me again. I’m worried that they will use more extreme measures to attack me next time.

I know these assailants have basic human rights and I agree with that. But how about those who were hurt by them? Who is going to guarantee our human rights? This is really unfair, because our right to live without fear has been compromised. I hope if similar things happen in the future, the Taiwanese government can punish these assailants with more severe sentences. Otherwise, these illegal attacks will continue to exist.

Q: Causeway Bay Bookstore used to be an iconic bookstore in Hong Kong, as it sells a lot of the sensitive materials that are banned in China. Has the bookstore’s mission changed as you re-open it in Taiwan?

Lam: The bookstore is doing exact the same thing as what it used to do in Hong Kong. The Chinese government tried to use many ways to destroy the bookstore in Hong Kong, so re-opening it in Taiwan is my way to fight back. They want to deprive us of the right to read, so we need to resist.

However, re-opening the bookstore in Taiwan is only one of the many ways to fight back against the CCP. Re-opening the bookstore also allows people here to understand more issues through books. Some people in Taiwan support unification with China, so people should try to understand what these people are thinking.

Unifying with China means they will no longer enjoy basic human rights and they will lose the rights to vote. It is also why many people in Hong Kong want to remind Taiwanese people not to embrace the idea of unifying with China. However, even if you may not agree with the CCP and those who support them, you can still try to understand their ideologies and ways of thinking through books.

I hope to help Taiwanese people better understand China through the books I sell, because this is one of the better ways to protect Taiwan. Re-opening the bookstore is for me to extend this mission, and it is also one of the most basic ways to protect Taiwan. That’s why Taiwan needs a bookstore like Causeway Bay Bookstore.

I also hope to remind Taiwanese people to strengthen their understanding about themselves. If you don’t understand yourself, isn’t it easy for the CCP to brainwash you? The CCP isn’t the only problem to Taiwan and Hong Kong. We should also pay attention to if the CCP is toppled one day, will the new regime be the same as the CCP? We need to explore some practical questions in the distant future, and we will be able to come up with solutions through books.

Q: How do you assess the development in Hong Kong over the last year?

Lam: Hong Kong people definitely need to fight back, but there are many ways to protest. It doesn’t mean that when the police tried to shoot protesters, they always have to respond with molotov cocktail. That’s a very dangerous thing to do. The CCP has guns and cannons, so if Hong Kong protesters still respond with violence, doesn’t that mean they will lose their lives? While it is necessary to fight back against the CCP, protesters also need to know how to protect themselves. When a place becomes life-threatening, they should try to leave that place first.

Hong Kong people need to learn to protect themselves before they can continue to fight. The protest against China is a long-term commitment, rather than something that ends within three to five years. I think planning for the long-term is a smarter way to protest.

However, I’m still very sad to see how things continue to develop in Hong Kong. Recently, China’s liaison office and its Hong Kong and Macau Affairs office have both come out to claim that they are not regulated by Article 22 in the Basic Law, and this just reflects their desire to rule Hong Kong directly. This is completely against the promises China made back in the 1980s. However, they are not holding back following heavy criticism from the civil society.

I think these statements have more impact than the anti-extradition bill that was proposed last year. The anti-extradition bill only means that China’s law has the possibility of being extended to Hong Kong, but the Chinese government’s recent tactics have become more outrageous. They have completely ignored their promises.

We should also think about why the CCP is so eager to erode Hong Kong’s autonomy. This is the critical question to all of us in Taiwan, Hong Kong and China.

Q: Many Hong Kongers have arrived in Taiwan over the last year. What is Taiwan’s role in Hong Kong’s ongoing struggle against the CCP?

Lam: Taiwan serves as the base for Hong Kongers to maintain their resistance against the CCP from abroad. This is a safe place for them to continue the cause, because face-to-face confrontation is not the only way to fight against the CCP.

They can try not to buy things that are made in China, or they can join talks about Hong Kong and support relevant protests in Taiwan. They shouldn’t think that they no longer have a place to launch their fight against the CCP, because there are many ways for them to continue the fight. The only difference is if they have thought about these possibilities.

While I still worry about my personal safety, I won’t stop the operation of my bookstore in Taiwan as long as I’m still alive. The assailants are the ones who should be worried, not me. They are the ones who violated the law. I did nothing wrong so I should’t be scared.

This interview was first published in Mandarin on DW’s Chinese website.

William Yang is a journalist based in Taiwan, where he writes about politics, society, and human rights issues in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong.