After Chinese billionaire Xiao Jianhua (肖建華) - owner of the Tomorrow Group - was reported missing on Jan. 27, a wave of contradictory information followed as rumors of state abduction spread.

Xiao, 46, was first reported missing to the Hong Kong Police by his wife. He was last seen at the Four Season Hotel Hong Kong, where he resides. It was rumored he was seized by police along with his personal bodyguards. A missing person report was soon requested to be withdrawn by his wife, stating that Xiao had contacted her.

Read more
INTERVIEW: The ‘Risky Business’ of China’s Extradition Demands on the West
Hong Kong No Longer a Safe Place to Criticize China
INTERVIEW: The ‘Risky Business’ of China’s Extradition Demands on the West

On Jan. 30 and 31, two separate statements appeared under Xiao’s name on the WeChat account of Tomorrow Group.

The first post, published on Jan. 30, was a short paragraph thanking and assuring those concerned and explaining that he was “recovering from an illness outside the country.”

The second, published the following day, consisted of four paragraphs and was much more patriarchal in tone. It “explained” that he had not been abducted by the state, that he loves the country and is protected by Canada and Hong Kong as a dual citizen. The statement was published on the front page of Hong Kong's Chinese-language Ming Pao newspaper on Feb 1. However, the original article was deleted from WeChat.

China Digital Times has revealed that on Jan. 31 Chinese authorities issued a notice to the media to remove all content related to Xiao and the Tomorrow Group. The notice said, “All websites, including WeChat and Weibo accounts, media apps, and affiliated self-media, please immediately find and delete information on the Tomorrow Group and Xiao Jianhua.”

The current whereabouts of Xiao remains unclear. On Feb 1, an individual claiming to be close to Xiao spoke to media suggesting that Xiao is currently in China and only allowed to contact his family members, Hong Kong Free Press reports.

Since 2014, under President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) corruption crackdown and “Operation Fox Hunt,” more than 2,000 so-called economic fugitives, including more than 300 former officials, have been returned to China from more than 70 countries and regions.

As Human Rights Watch noted in its latest global report, published last month, under its constitution, Hong Kong is guaranteed autonomy in all matters other than foreign affairs and defense, and enjoys an independent judiciary and other civil liberties.

However, “in practice Beijing is increasingly encroaching on rights to political participation, expression, and assembly in the territory,” the organization said.

Xiao’s case has been compared to the abduction of a group of Hong Kong booksellers from 2015. Between October and December that year, five staff from the Causeway Bay Bookstore, went missing.

While most of the men reappeared in China, HRW noted the Chinese government “has yet to explain whether, and under what circumstances, mainland security forces are operating in the territory, and Hong Kong authorities have failed to press for such information.”

Editor: Edward White