After days of speculation about the whereabouts of a Taiwan-based book publisher, Beijing revealed that authorities arrested the China critic for allegedly “endangering national security.”
Shanghai security officers arrested Li Yanhe, a book publisher and radio host for the Taiwanese public broadcaster Radio Taiwan International, while he was visiting relatives in the city.
Li traveled to China last month. Reports that he was missing emerged about a week ago.
China’s Taiwan Affairs Office announced Li’s arrest at a Wednesday news conference, when spokesperson Zhu Fenglian said Li was under investigation for “conducting activities endangering national security.”
Zhu added that Li’s rights would be respected during the investigation.
Books critical of Beijing
Li, who uses the pen name Fucha, was born in China but moved to Taiwan in 2009. In Taiwan, he established Gusa Press, which has published books critical of Beijing.
The publisher also hosts the show “Seeing China This Way — Time with Fucha” on Radio Taiwan International, where he discusses Chinese politics.
The free-expression group PEN America urged China to immediately release Li.
“His detention is an attack on free expression and another example of the Chinese government’s belligerence towards anyone who stands for the free and open exchange of ideas,” PEN America China researcher Angeli Datt said in a statement.
The Committee to Protect Journalists, a press freedom group, also urged China to drop the charges against the publisher.
“Chinese authorities must stop pinning national security charges on both foreign and local journalists,” Iris Hsu, CPJ’s China representative, said in a statement.
Publishers a common target
Beijing has targeted book publishers in the past.
In 2015, Chinese officials secretly detained five Hong Kong booksellers over their involvement with a publisher of books that were critical of President Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party.
The Chinese Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to VOA’s email requesting comment.
Li is the latest in a recent slate of Taiwan-linked critics to be targeted.
Earlier this week, Chinese authorities said they had completed an investigation into Yang Chih-yuan, a Taiwanese man, and arrested him on accusations of “separatist activities,” according to The New York Times. Yang is the vice chairman of the Taiwanese National Party, a small party that promotes Taiwanese independence.
Zhu, the spokesperson for China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, said that Yang’s case was “a further wake-up call for Taiwanese separatist forces.”
Also this month, two Taiwan-based reporters for Taiwan’s EBC News were detained by Chinese authorities while filming military exercises in China’s Fujian province, according to the BBC.
On the same day Beijing announced Li’s arrest, China’s parliament passed sweeping amendments to broaden its anti-espionage laws, which will likely make it easier to charge foreigners with espionage, The Guardian reported. The changes are set to go into effect July 1.
The details of the amendments are murky, which is concerning but not surprising to Doreen Weisenhaus, director of the Media Law and Policy Initiative at Northwestern University. She thinks the amendments could be used to target foreign reporters.
“It’s very hard for journalists and businesses to know what might trip them up with these new laws,” Weisenhaus told VOA. But that’s by design, she added.
“That’s a standard for Chinese laws and statutes — that they are vague,” Weisenhaus said. “They’re vague intentionally to give them the maximum flexibility on how and when they’re going to utilize them.”
Beijing has long used espionage and national security charges as a pretext to target foreigners.
Among them is Cheng Lei, an Australian national who worked as an anchor at the Chinese state-run TV channel CGTN in Beijing. Cheng has been detained since 2020 on espionage charges.
Earlier this week, it was reported that a veteran Chinese journalist who worked at the state-affiliated Guangming Daily newspaper was detained on espionage charges in February after meeting with a Japanese diplomat.