"For a very long time, we thought we could leave China alone, and China would leave the world alone," says Simon Lee, co-founder of the Hong Kong–based free market think tank, the Lion Rock Institute, and a former columnist for Apple Daily. "But [the 2019-2020 government crackdown in Hong Kong] shows the world that China cannot just be itself in that middle kingdom, surrounded by walls. They want the world to accept the fact that China has a better system, a better way of doing things."
Apple Daily was the second most-read news site in Hong Kong until the police raided its offices, seized its assets, and arrested and imprisoned its founder, Jimmy Lai. He was eventually charged with committing "foreign collusion," organizing unlawful assemblies, aiding a dissident in an attempted escape to Taiwan, and committing fraud by subleasing the newspaper's office space.
The site has stopped publishing, and its archives are now only accessible via the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine, though a Taiwan-based version of the publication is still live.
Meanwhile the 74-year-old Lai—an entrepreneur and activist who points to F.A. Hayek's The Road to Serfdom as the inspiration for his fight—remains in prison, where he might stay for the rest of his life.
Lee sat down with Reason to discuss his ex-boss's legacy, the history of Apple Daily, the future of Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement, and how libertarians should think about the increasingly strained relations between China and the U.S.
He started by telling us about Lai's warning to him in the weeks preceding the raid of Apple Daily's offices: That he should leave Hong Kong immediately.
"Jimmy texted me and he said, it is not safe anymore. You better go," says Lee. "He knew it very well. Hong Kong was not safe. He knew that he [was] in danger, but he chose to stay."
Produced by Zach Weissmueller; edited by John Osterhoudt and Adam Czarnecki; graphics by Regan Taylor.
Photos: Yan Yan Xinhua News Agency/Newscom; TOM WALKER/UPI/Newscom; Ju Peng Xinhua News Agency/Newscom; Xie Huanchi Xinhua News Agency/Newscom; Dickson Lee/ZUMAPRESS/Newscom; Sam Tsang/ZUMAPRESS/Newscom; Chan Ho-him/SCMP/Newscom; Sam Tsang/SCMP/Newscom; CHINE NOUVELLE/SIPA/Newscom; Post Staff Photographer/SCMP/Newscom; Winson Wong/ZUMAPRESS/Newscom; Keith Tsuji/ZUMAPRESS/Newscom; Leung Man Hei/ZUMAPRESS/Newscom; Huang Jingwen Xinhua News Agency/Newscom; Geovien So / SOPA Images/Sipa US/Newscom; Felix Wong/ZUMAPRESS/Newscom; MARTIN CHAN/SCMP/Newscom; Winson Wong/ZUMAPRESS/Newscom; Artyom Ivanov/ZUMA Press/Newscom;Dominic Chiu/ZUMAPRESS/Newscom; Martin Chan/SCMP/Newscom; Perry Hui / SOPA Images/Sipa USA/Newscom; CHINE NOUVELLE/SIPA/Newscom; Michael Ho Wai Lee/ZUMAPRESS/Newscom; Michael Ho Wai Lee/ZUMAPRESS/Newscom