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editorial

PHOTO MOVED IN ADVANCE AND NOT FOR USE - ONLINE OR IN PRINT - BEFORE FEB. 7, 2016. -- A staff member at a pharmacy next to Causeway Bay Books prays in front of a missing-person notice for Lee Bo, a book editor who has disappeared in Hong Kong, Jan. 19, 2016. The disappearance of Lee and several of his associates shines a light on an industry that sells books daring to criticize Beijing. (Lam Yik Fei/The New York Times)LAM YIK FEI/The New York Times

At last, all of the Causeway Bay Five are at least partly accounted for. Chinese public security authorities have belatedly confirmed that none of a group of five owners or employees of Mighty Current Media, a bookstore and publishing house in Hong Kong, have simply disappeared off the face of the Earth.

MCM specializes in books and magazines about the sex scandals and business corruption of the Chinese ruling class. Until early this month, the whereabouts of the three of the five were entirely unknown; now, they are acknowledged to be in Chinese custody.

By 'fessing up, China has finally deigned to show some respect in this matter for the Hong Kong police, and for Hong Kong's Chief Executive, Leung Chun-ying, who is hardly any kind of dissident against the Chinese government.

When the booksellers started to mysteriously go missing, it looked as if Beijing was undermining the principle of "one country, two systems" agreed upon between Britain and China in 1997, when Hong Kong ceased to be a British colony.

That seems not to be so (or not yet), and the indignation of the Hong Kong and international media have had some salutary effect on forcing a confession from China. The Chinese authorities have not actually admitted abducting Hong Kong residents, but they have acknowledged detaining them outside Hong Kong.

Two of the Chinese men detained have dual citizenship (one British, one Swedish). It may be only a matter of time before a dual citizen of Canada and China is arrested on some sort of political or criminal charges without being able to contact the consular services of Canada. Worse, some Chinese dissidents have been transported to China from at least one weak, deferential third country, Thailand.

All of this is wrong. Chinese authorities may be annoyed by scandal and dissent, but muckraking is undoubtedly part of the civil liberties that are the agreed-upon British legacy to Hong Kong.