A pro-democracy publishing house in Thailand has been approached by a Chinese businessman who wanted to pay it to close in order to strengthen relations with Beijing following the ruling Chinese Communist Party congress, its editors said in a statement.
A private investigative agency contacted Sam Yan Press in May with an offer of two million baht from a Chinese businessman who wanted to buy the business in order to shut it down, the publishing house said in a statement. on its website dated October 26.
“They said that the Chinese businessman was keen to establish good relations with the Chinese government. We were totally in disbelief and thought it was a fraud. Therefore, we completely ignored the messages of the agency and have pursued our causes,” the statement read. signed by the editorial board of the press, said.
By September, approaches had become much more persistent, with agency staff tracking down Sam Yan Press founder and prominent Thai democracy activist Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal at his home and at a Buddhist temple where he was on retreat as a monk.
“Members of our team have also received calls from the agency and other messages indicating the urgency of this offer,” the statement said. “This posed a serious threat to our independence, our security and our freedom of expression.”
The agency told Sam Yan Press editors in a face-to-face meeting that a Chinese businessman named Huang Chengde was offering them two million baht in cash for an official letter saying the press had been dissolved. .
“We strongly rejected the offer, making it clear that we would not be co-opted for the money,” the publishers said, adding that they would continue to translate and publish works consistent with their core values of promoting democracy in Thailand.
“We encourage all sectors of the press, media and international publishing to stand up against the regime’s attempted censorship and to resist the manipulation and domination of independent organizations,” the statement said.
Chinese business owners in foreign countries have appeared in the past as unofficial representatives of Beijing, especially where the Chinese Communist Party hopes to exert covert influence beyond its borders.
In 2019, the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs recalled its ambassador to China after being accused of arranging a meeting between two anonymous Chinese businessmen and the daughter of Hong Kong bookseller Gui Minhai who was detained without official permission.
Ambassador Anna Lindstedt was later charged by Swedish prosecutors with “arbitrariness during negotiations with a foreign power”, in particular linked to a meeting with Angela Gui during which she was “in contact with people representing the interests of the Chinese state”.
Screenshots of the first email to Sam Yan showed it included the possibility of the publishing house restarting six months later under a new name.
The main motivation for the purchase was Huang’s desire to maintain “good relations” with the Chinese government.
RFA contacted the Chinese Embassy in Thailand to comment on the story, but no response had been received at the time of writing.
Sam Yan was founded by a group of students in 2017 and participated in the Regional Milk Tea Alliance of pro-democracy movements and anti-Beijing protests.
He has published books by authors from Hong Kong, mainland China and Taiwan, including 2014 Hong Kong protest leader Joshua Wong, late 2010 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo and academic imprisoned Uyghur Ilham Tohti.
Ken Wu, a supporter of the Milk Tea Alliance and vice president of the Los Angeles chapter of the Formosan Association for Public Affairs (FAPA), said progressive organizations should stand in solidarity with Sam Yan.
“Organizations like Sam Yan that promote democracy, freedom and human rights and support anti-authoritarian movements like the Milk Tea Alliance are going to be rejected by a totalitarian state like the Chinese Communist Party,” he said. Wu told RFA.
“If totalitarian states become this powerful, they don’t stop at limiting freedom of expression in their own country,” he said. “They also extend their claws abroad and try to totally eliminate anything that could threaten their stability.”
Wu said Beijing likely fears regional publishers with progressive leanings, lest their books return to China.
China has imprisoned or detained several Hong Kong booksellers including Gui Minhai in recent years for selling political books banned in China to his citizens. Gui ended up in police custody in China after disappearing from his vacation home in Pattaya, Thailand.
Wu said that since Southeast Asian countries are generally economically dependent on Beijing, the attempt to dismantle a progressive Thai publishing house was “worrying”.
A Chinese national currently seeking asylum with UNHCR in Bangkok, who requested anonymity for security reasons, said there had been a huge spike in Chinese spy activity in Southeast Asia these last years.
Thai authorities have proven themselves ready to cooperate with Beijing in the repatriation of exiled dissidents, where they were then tried.
Australia-based rights campaigner Lu Ruichao said publicizing such scandals was the only way to respond.
“Keep the electronic evidence, and if it’s not available, take photos or videos and give them to media and law enforcement,” Lu said.
Lu said he was followed by several Chinese consular officials in Perth after attending an event marking the anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen massacre – a taboo subject for Beijing – in June 2020.
Officials had also tried to pressure local police to suppress the report he had written, prompting Lu to take the story to local media.
Lu said he hadn’t experienced anything like it since reporting the incident.
Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.