Jimmy Lai, the 75-year-old pro-democracy leader and publisher of Apple Daily, has been in Hong Kong’s Stanley Prison since 2020 on trumped-up charges lodged against him by the Chinese government. In this episode, Jimmy’s son, Sebastien, who lives in Taiwan and is leading the campaign to have his father freed from prison, talks about the Umbrella Revolution that swept through Hong Kong in 2019 and 2020, his father’s remarkable life and career, why he was motivated to promote democracy after the 1989 Tiananmen massacre, and why China continues to see Jimmy Lai as a threat. (Recorded October 23, 2023.) 

Episode Transcript

Robert Bryce 0:04
Hi, everyone, welcome to the power hungry Podcast. I’m Robert Bryce, on this podcast we talk about energy, power, innovation and politics. And we’re going to talk a lot of politics today with my guest, with whom I’m newly acquainted is Sebastian Lai. He is the son of imprisoned pro democracy leader, Jimmy Lai said welcome to the power hungry podcast.

Sebastien Lai 0:24
Grayson, you, Robert, thanks a lot for having me on your platform.

Robert Bryce 0:28
I met Sam, we met rather in August at the steamboat Institute event in Colorado. And you were interviewed by a journalist there and I thought you spoke very eloquently about your dad. Jimmy Lai, but before we get to that, I warned you, I don’t want all of my guests, guests on this podcast to introduce themselves. So I’ve given a brief introduction for who you are. But imagine you’ve arrived somewhere you don’t know anyone you have 60 seconds or so. Introduce yourself, please.

Sebastien Lai 0:57
So I lead the campaign to free my father July. My father has been in prison in Hong Kong in the last for the last almost three years now. And at 75. He is the oldest political prisoner. He used to be the publisher of the biggest newspaper in Hong Kong. It also happened to be the a pro democracy newspaper. So the authorities really didn’t like that. And when the national security law came down, they they they took that as an opportunity to arrest him. And he’s been detained ever since.

Robert Bryce 1:32
And the National Security Law was passed in Hong Kong in in now I’m new to this. I’m not going to pretend to be an expert, but I’ve been studying for this. Our discussion today. It was in 2020. That was enacted and it was shortly after that. Now, I’m just going to read this off really quickly. So people who are listening and new to this. Don’t know your father, don’t know your history. And thank you for that brief introduction. Jimmy Lai immigrated to Hong Kong as a child as a young child as a as a teenager. Is that right? Is the age 13 Was it?

Sebastien Lai 2:03
Yeah, he was. Yeah. 1112 1212

Robert Bryce 2:09
Born in Guangzhou, Guangzhou and then worked in a garment factory, then created the Giordano clothing line, made a lot of money, sold that business got in the media business, founded next magazine founded Apple Daily newspaper, was first arrested in 2014, harassed by Chinese security 2019, the protests in Hong Kong happened with the Umbrella Revolution, protest group, as many as 2 million people out of a city of 7 million. Jimmy was arrested again in 2020, released arrested a few months later, 2021 his assets were frozen, he was sentenced to 13 months in prison. And in late 2021. In late 2022, he was sentenced to five sentenced to five years and nine months in prison. I just wanted to give that quick update for people who aren’t familiar and I was not. And so I wanted to just get that timeline out there. Because I think it’s important to get that context. And there’s this great quote from your dad, I’ll just read this. This was in 2020, right before the national security law was put into place. Your father said, I don’t regret my support for the protest movement. I came here empty handed. He’s talking about Hong Kong, and I over everything I’ve got to the freedom of Hong Kong, maybe it’s time for me to give it back. I think there’s more to life than money. Is a courageous, courageous guy, your dad and now he’s in prison. Would Have you been able to contact him at all? Tell me what what is the current situation?

Sebastien Lai 3:41
Yeah. So actually, just to add to be timeline when he was arrested in August 2020. He was laid out. But then he was taking back in December that month, during that year, and he was held, he was held without bail. And she has been held since end of December 2020, which, again, highly unusual for a 75 year old man nonviolent with no prior criminal records, you know, to be held without bail. So, unfortunately, I haven’t been able to go back to see my father because of how vague the National Security Law is, with voice actors with with offenses such as colluding with foreign forces, even doing a podcast like this and calling for my father’s release, can very well be a criminal charge against me. And as a result of that, I haven’t been able to Well, I mean, I haven’t returned to Hong Kong.

Robert Bryce 4:47
And as he’s being held in as I read a Hong Kong Stanley Prison, Is that Is that your understanding?

Sebastien Lai 4:53
Yeah, it’s a it’s an executed resin. It’s quite it’s quite hard. Reading and actually the images are available online if you type in Jimmy Lai, arrest, but it’s quite heartbreaking to see your father dragged around like he’s some very dangerous prisoner when all he did was called the Hong Kong government and the Chinese government on their suppression of freedoms using his journalism.

Robert Bryce 5:20
And he’s Is he being held in solitary confinement?

Sebastien Lai 5:24
Yeah, yeah, that’s my that’s my understanding. But they Associated Press published pictures of him. And actually, it was the first time I saw my father in, in three years, through those pictures. And and that was what was in the article.

Robert Bryce 5:40
And when was the last time you saw him?

Sebastien Lai 5:43
Last time I saw him was August 2020. I left. Yeah, I left in August 2020. Tonight, it’s not knowing that he would have been arrested seven days afterwards. And once he got arrested, he, you know, he was laid out the first time as I mentioned, and he told me not to not to go back to Hong Kong. Because even I mean, I think he knew at that point that it was a completely different place, just with the passing of one law.

Robert Bryce 6:14
You remember the last word you had with him?

Sebastien Lai 6:17
Was ahead with him. Last Word, last words I had with him. I mean, we always got along very well would have been something along the lines of

I take care in Taiwan. And you know, I obviously I call him even when I was in quarantine and whatnot.

Robert Bryce 6:40
spoke to him after you saw him in person then before he was arrested. Exactly. Yeah. Okay. So extensively. Yeah. Did you talk sports with him? I’m just curious. I mean, you know, what were the things you talk about? Was that part of what you’re I mean, you know, my kids I, we talked about basketball. We’re all basketball fans it was your dad, a cricket fan? Or I don’t know, what do you know what sports he followed? What would you what would you talk about? Of course, politics was part of that, right?

Sebastien Lai 7:04
Yeah, I’d say well, actually, surprisingly, not so much where we wouldn’t talk. It was. I mean, you see him in prison now. And, you know, he’s been in prison for the last three years. But so you think that it was the harassment started after National Security Law, but actually, in the harassment that he’s had is something that he’s, he’s always had to deal with, since he, since he basically took a stand for pro democracy and eventually had to sell Giordano, his clothing brand as a result of that. We you know, he’s always had harassment. You know, houses were fireball. His emails were hacked. In Taiwan, someone’s skin, the dog and pinned it on our door. So it was always a My father always had this ability to compartmentalize. So we, we didn’t actually talk that much about politics and home. Sports wise, I’d say I’d say our real passion was food. You know, I like to think that Well, I mean, to be honest, I think if dad didn’t have this mission in life if he didn’t have to, to come in, in defense of freedom in Hong Kong, he would have probably been, you know, happy been a food writer. In fact, he he’s got a a nightshift for, for writing about food in France. So he’s a, he’s a French Knight of the agricultural order, which is something that is incredibly artsy about incredibly hard to get. He wasn’t gunning for anything, but they just gave it to him. And

Robert Bryce 8:53
so he likes to cook then when you were a kid, he would cook for you then and it was part of who Yeah,

Sebastien Lai 8:58
he would, he would he would he would cook for us. Mainly eating there, I think. Yeah. Yeah, but he was it was a very good cook. And we have very good memories of Sunday, because he was always very busy. So it was, you know, Sunday, Sunday lunches, and we’d sit together and eat cook something and mom would cook something. Yeah, so incredibly fond memories of

Robert Bryce 9:21
that. Yeah, that’s good. I can see it in your face. When you talk about him about those memories. Come back. You know, you can tell by people when they see those things in their mind’s eye. Why was your dad such a threat? Why did China feel the need to now your father was very outspoken, and the Umbrella Movement he was out marching and there’s a before I go further, if you haven’t watched this film, The Hongkonger, which is a film that has made by the Acton Institute is marvelous, and just a I’ve just finished watching it just now. And it’s just remarkable and has had over 30 million views on YouTube. It’s brilliantly added Did and put together? Watch that it’s on YouTube. It’s also available on free Jimmy lai.com. So by all means, check those out. Why was your father such a threat though he was he was actively not just he was not just publishing next magazine and Apple Daily newspaper, which was the most popular newspaper in Hong Kong. He was actually out in the streets protesting he was walking with the marchers and doing it regularly. Why would this I’m gonna don’t take your He’s an old man, why was he such a threat to the Chinese system?

Sebastien Lai 10:35
My father always had a very good line. That fear is the cheapest weapon that these autocratic regime have on you. Once they know that you’re scared, you act predictably. And and they control you they have you. They have you reached with with with their fear. And so I think my father was they they really dislike my father because my father gave a they gave, he gave an alternative to the narrative of, of, of Hong Kong. That first of all, you didn’t have to kowtow to the government to be financially successful. You didn’t have to back to China, obviously, doing so would have would have been a sort of opening to much greater wealth. But he and the thing is he realized that very, very early on, when he first started Apple Daily, he called out for the paying the Bertrand be doing an article calling him all sorts of horrible things. But to me, it was pretty, you know, pretty accurate, because the time was the one who gave the order to rule the students over in tanks and kill them in attendance were massacre and the Chinese weren’t happy to be criticized. So they closed all the apple Giordano’s short shops in Beijing and, and I knew that if he was you know, he had an opportunity apologize or whatnot. And any he knew that if he countered, and if he had all these businesses in China, with the with the laser power, and that he’d always be in the pocket, so he decided to sell. So he’s a man who gives you an alternative narrative that you have to to suck up China to be successful. And he also gave people a, a alternative, that money isn’t everything. You know, it’s I think his story, really is that it’s a man who has it’s a very clear man who through his action has shown that actually there are more important you know, it’s

Robert Bryce 13:06
a read back what he said the, if the government can induce fear in you, this is a direct quote, that’s the easiest way to control you. There was something in the in the Hong Kong or that was interesting, and I know we’ll well his wife is he was married twice to Teresa. Is that is that your mother?

Sebastien Lai 13:27
So my mother, yeah. He so he remarried my so he was divorced once and I married my mother. Okay.

Robert Bryce 13:36
And she and your mother was Catholic, and then your father converted to Catholicism. It was baptized and became a Catholic. And that seemed as he the way it was portrayed in the Acton Institute is headed by Father Sirika. Yeah. How important was that to his? How important was his faith to his activism?

Sebastien Lai 14:03
He took his stance after search for pro democracy, really, after Tiananmen Square of the tenements were massacred. Right. That was when he decided that China was going to liberalize, he knew that China was going to liberalize economically, but it wasn’t gonna liberalize socially. So he decided that Hong Kong being at that point a British colony, was going to get handed over in 97 to China. And he knew that at that point, people would need a strong independent voice that called the government out on on corruption on one one of the things that they did, and so he that’s that was what app was earlier next media was, so he converted actually, at in 1987 and A few months after the hangover handover. So a few weeks actually, after the handover, and it was because I think he always had, he always felt that he had a calling. That was it that it was beyond me it was, he always felt like he had a calling like, like, you know, obviously he wasn’t, you know, as you mentioned, he wasn’t born in Hong Kong. He was born in Guangzhou. And, you know, he didn’t choose his his home. Yeah, he was introduced and choose where he was born. But But Hong Kong welcomed him with open arms. So he always felt a calling to, to defend that place in its freedom. And I think, all that just cumulated in his conversion to Catholicism, after the handover, because he felt like there was a there was a higher calling.

Robert Bryce 15:55
And he said something in and I replayed it, gosh, I don’t know four or five times because it was so affecting. And now, so Kinnaman square the massacre was in 1989. You converged in 1997, after the handover. And I watched the film, but there was one, this segment I watched several times. He said, I’m quoting here directly, I didn’t feel anything about China until Tiananmen Square happened. All of a sudden, it was like my mother was calling in the darkness of the night. And then there’s this long pause, and there’s a look on his face. And again, you know, I mentioned this before there was he was Reese, he was seeing his mother again, and he appears on the verge of tears. And he says, and my heart opened up. And that there was something in that moment of the aftermath of the massacre at Tiananmen Square that he saw his life in a different way. And there was a vision of his own mother. That I guess he didn’t see her again, after he left Guangzhou then was that, did you know her?

Sebastien Lai 17:03
Yeah. And I was very fortunate to have known my grandmother, but it’s quite a it’s quite as well. It ends up being quite a happy story. But when the when the communists first came, because my grandmother could read her, right. She was put in camps. And she was, you know, we we, Dad, that’s father had been very successful in business as well. So when the.com discovered it, obviously, they took everything but they also put my grandmother in camp. So at a very early age, I think at five, six, my father had to fend for himself and make money to, to feed his his two sons, who’s his two sisters. And actually, the story is stories about him having to, you know, telling one of his sisters not go with him, to you know, when he was like peddling sweets and whatnot, because you’d get beaten up, because he was on someone else’s street, or whatever it is, and selling your product. And he was five, six, so though, they’ll beat him up and tell him not to be there again. But, but when he decided to go to London, decided to go to Hong Kong. My grandma was obviously originally he was, she was very opposed to it. I think he started when he was nine. And it took a few years to prepare. Because she thought Hong Kong is not geographically far away, but it’s a world away. It’s a world away from from, from communist China. And when he killed himself and decided to leave them, he tells me a story of my grandma hugging him and just crying and he had never, he had never, I don’t think he had ever seen her cry up until that point, because it was a very, life was very hard. And I don’t think it was, sometimes there’s just not, there’s nothing left in for tears, and she was crying because she pushed him never see him again. Now, unfortunately, when, when trying to open his borders, he got he got to see his mother again. But I think that that feeling always always stuck with him of, of, of, you know, going to Hong Kong at 12 and not really having anybody and feeling that he needed to to defend this place. That’s the kind of space that sort of almost adopted.

Robert Bryce 19:35
So just a quick bit of background here. So your father was born in 1947. So he would have left to left China for Hong Kong in 1959 or so. And but that you said that they were able to see each other again after then he got to Hong Kong, but that that image, though it’s one of the most effective, effective or affecting parts of the movie, the Hong Kong are where you’re Father recalls that and the Tiananmen Square was a turning point for him. And that that was a guess in thinking about it. And, you know, I don’t know your dad, I, you know, it’d be great to meet him. But you know, it was touching, right? There’s there seems like there are two conversion stories. One is the conversion that he had after Tim tenement square, and converted to Catholicism, but then he’s all in then it’s, he’s fully committed this and then endures then years of harassment by the Chinese security forces. And then until his ultimate arrest, and now his detention. But I maybe I asked it before, but I want to ask you what, what is it that he represents That’s so dangerous to the Chinese Communist Party, this idea he had one other great line in the film where he talks about that Apple Daily was giving. He was providing liberty? And you know, I’m, I’m a reporter, right? I’ve never had a real job. I’ve been, you know, I believe in newspapers, I believe in the power of the press. And he had this ultimate faith in the idea of publishing and how powerful it was. And he understood that messaging. But how do you think about him in terms of what he represented the threat that he represented?

Sebastien Lai 21:11
Well, the thing is, it’s it’s like, the the things he represents, and the things that he is currently imprisoned for, are, are actually things that the Hong Kong government would say it’s perfectly legal. You know, that they’ll say this is a free press, they’ll say this, our free press, right. And then they’ll send 500 police officers to raid Apple Daily, they’ll tell you these are free speech freedom assembly, and then that would get I think it was 13 months of prison. One sentence was 13 months prison for lighting a candle and singer proud of Central Square visual. So so all these things that he is in prison for are things that the Hong Kong government say is illegal. And I think in the end of the day, he is such a, quote unquote, a threat because he represents a what I mean, I guess he represents the truth in the sense. He represents

Robert Bryce 22:24
a lie exposing the lie of the government, I guess would be

Sebastien Lai 22:28
exactly where he was always that call them out on their, on their lives.

Robert Bryce 22:35
And you’re living in Taiwan now. And in Taipei, in Taipei, okay, so I forgive me, my geography is not very good. And I haven’t looked at the map of Taiwan, but and what do you do? How do you support yourself? Seb?

Sebastien Lai 22:50
Oh, so I work. I worked with family office. I, we build houses here, and a few investments.

Robert Bryce 23:02
So you’re doing you’re in business in in Taipei? Yeah, yeah. Gotcha. And do you have family there? Are you married? Are you married guy? You wouldn’t mean do you have family? There? You’re yourself?

Sebastien Lai 23:13
Yeah, so I actually, I got married. Well, actually, it’s almost my Yeah, almost one year when you’re to this day.

Robert Bryce 23:25
Let me just tell you I’ve been married a long time. He knows that you need to know these things. We’re friendly. We’re new newly acquainted here. But that’s a good thing to remember your wedding anniversary? This is

Sebastien Lai 23:40
I did I do that? Yeah. It is definitely. But it is a reminder. Thank you.

Robert Bryce 23:48
And, and what is your wife do? Do you mind me asking? What is her? What’s her? What’s her? What’s her story? How did you meet?

Sebastien Lai 23:55
So I met my wife, funnily enough at a, at a vegan restaurant. In university we had we been together for nine years, and I’m not not vegan. And so it was one of those things where someone recommended to me and I went there and this guy has had to opposite me and started speaking to and we’ve been we’ve been together ever since.

Robert Bryce 24:22
And that’s great story. And where was this? In? What town?

Sebastien Lai 24:26
In the I went to the University of Hong Kong University.

Robert Bryce 24:29
Gotcha. Okay. So did you know back to your your father’s story, because, again, I watched that one segment of the film where your father is almost moved to tears where he talks about his mother and that conversion moment about then he knew my heart opened up, he said, right and did so did you know his mother? Did you meet your grandmother? Yeah, yeah. What was she like? And she was so she would have been committed to the camps during the Mao’s Cultural Revolution, then in the late 40s and early 50s. Then and and hard labor in the farm or something like that she must have been incredible, incredibly resilient person.

Sebastien Lai 25:07
Yeah. And I think it was such a hard time that she you know, she never really talked about that time but she was an absolutely amazing woman because she was so you so incredibly strong. I mean, you know, I relatives would tell me stories about how she had to like new like lost. Relatives would tell me that she had a new one on glass. Neon glass. Yeah, as part of the recording called reeducation camp. I don’t know what that educates you. But it’s, it’s it’s, it tells you the horrors of the Cultural Revolution as well. But she’d never talked about it. And she was always she was always, you know, even through those so much hardship that happened or like she was always incredibly kind. And, and she always, she always felt like it’s funny, these little things that you remember as a kid, but she always spent like this, this Chinese medical oil medicine or oil, that people would put on their bruises or whatever it is. Later on, I realized this because she she was she was smoking. She kept Yeah, this is no endorsement of smoking, obviously. But she’s, I think she was 97. And, and I think every time she she knew that I come visit, she put a bit of that oil to, to remove that smell. Every story of this woman who went through so much, but still didn’t want her grandkids to know that didn’t want to pass on this bad habits or grandkids.

Robert Bryce 26:46
Right. So let’s talk about China more generally, if you don’t mind, and you’re leading the effort to try and coerce the Chinese government now to take an action that would obviously something they don’t want to do they view Jimmy your father, Jimmy Lai, as a threat, it’s easier to keep him in prison, and were he to be let out. It would be a media sensation, right, there would be a lot of coverage. And it’s remarkable in talking with people here in Austin, I told, you know, telling people I was going to talk to you and I’d say, you know who Jimmy Lai is, and many of them don’t. But I think had they if they knew these stories, and they knew how what did the Chinese government is doing? They’d be appalled, right? Because we have our own issues with the press and free speech here in the US, but nothing like this. How do you view China more generally? Now, I mean, given I mean, obviously, this is a personal issue with your father in prison, but it seems Zhi Jing ping is wouldn’t be threatened by these kinds of things, if he were really had a secure position and power. And I want to talk about the event last year where they remove who Jintao but how do you see China now? Because there are a lot of people casting doubt on the future of China, there are issues around obviously, the real estate bubble, that it may be bursting. There are a lot of issues in China in terms of demographics. How do you? Simple question. So how do you see China kind of generally now? Is China on the upswing? Is it on the downswing? Is it? How do you see the country in general?

Sebastien Lai 28:15
So I’m No, obviously I have my own opinions. But I’m not an expert on Chinese politics.

Robert Bryce 28:23
I ain’t no expert either. Here, we’re just two guys talking on a pod. Yeah. But But yeah, you know, you know something about this? What we’ll say,

Sebastien Lai 28:31
I know, through the context of Hong Kong, and and I think that, you know, obviously, they probably would not, they probably don’t want to release my father, as you as you, as you mentioned that and if they wanted to keep you out of prison, but it’s really in their best interest to release my father and other political prisoners. And obviously, I’m very biased because it’s my father. But the reason why I say this is because Hong Kong is a source of it accounts for I think, I don’t know, something like 70% of the foreign direct investment into China. You might have to fact check me on that. But it was always a place where where people could invest into China, while having well people from the west where she or anybody in the world could invest in China, while having the protections of a common law system, rule of law. And all these institutions that we have in America, whether they were instituted by the UK and Hong Kong that have an OD in many of the free world and we wouldn’t have them we never had democracy and on but

Robert Bryce 29:52
but the structure, the legal structures were dependable. You had the rule of law, exactly contracts and things that were bankers and lawyers and accountants could all agree on right that there was a system that made it investable.

Sebastien Lai 30:06
Yeah. Yeah. So that system is, is that system is now being destroyed. I mean, the one of the interesting, interesting things about my father’s case, is that it’s not like the Hong Kong government has suddenly grown 300 IQ points per person. It really is a conscious decision to destroy its own legal system. In order to get to my father and the other political prisoners, I’ll give an example he got a five years nine months for at least violation. So it was a landlord tenant disputes that they had to the case, because it was it was usually not a tenant, even if he was guilty, which in this case, I’d say he wasn’t that that’s a years, it’s sold by fine. It’s usually as simple as its administrative issues is solved by fine. I’m sure some of you listeners, some of you listeners would have had a landlord tenant dispute where there were the 10, which is what this case was, and and, and worse, you pay a fine and that’s it. Now, they flipped that into a fraud charge. And given five year time, months, where nobody had ever been charged for a loan or tenant industry up until the point, but it’s quite a it’s a very worrying, proceeding. Because this is a commercial, it basically means that the door is now open for them to criminalize. Join us any anything they want, really, and then flip that and turn it into a very serious prison time.

Robert Bryce 31:48
So a simple commercial dispute right over is what they made a trumped up charge on a commercial, legal or legal dispute or a lease dispute. And then that ends up in prison time and

Sebastien Lai 32:01
exactly intended. And at times, it ends a criminal offense, which is which is absolutely crazy. The State Department has released, released a USA department on the day calling the Tigers, a sham charge, state issued a statement and the EU parliament has passed a resolution resolution to ask my father to be free and the UN Special Rapporteur that code for his release as well. So it’s an absolutely ridiculous charge. But the the main point of that is that it’s a common law legal system. One that once that’s done once this precedent is set, it’s a precedent, and it can happen to anyone. So going back to China. I think it’s the calculus for them is really whether they they are happy. In as you mentioned, you know, everybody can see on the news that there’s a lot of stuff happening in China at the moment to the economy is whether they are willing to sacrifice Hong Kong as a as a golden goose. Just for obedience. I mean, just just for just to stand down on his people

Robert Bryce 33:24
who wait to prove a point about authoritarianism or the power of Beijing that we’re going no, we are right, no, tolerate no dissent

Sebastien Lai 33:32
for a smaller world. You know, I think that’s that’s that’s what it is in. Hong Kong is an international financial center. And by cracking down on it, you get by definition, you’re making the world smaller, you’re making ideas, flow, flow less and also you’re making money.

Robert Bryce 33:51
Less, less investable, or less attractive. Yeah, foreign capital. So quick station break again. My guest is Seb Sebastian Lai. He’s the son of the imprisoned pro democracy leader Jimmy Lai. Go to Jimmy lai.com. Watch the film, the Hong Kong er, which was made by the Acton Institute, you can also find more and follow on Twitter at support Jimmy Lai, just like it sounds so at support Jimmy Lai on Twitter that I wanted to talk about because this is another bit of video that I’ve watched many times, and it’s almost operatic the way it unfolds. And it was last October in October of 2022. And it’s in the Communist Party Congress in that massive building and all the red chairs and everybody’s dressed the same and, and who Jintao who’s the former Premier is escorted out he was sitting I think next is Xi Jinping. And in the middle in front of everyone, they come and two guys say you’re leaving and you’re and he’s confused. He’s an older guy. And now right and they’re he’s bewildered by what’s going on. And this the the, it is clear what what’s happening and one of his colleagues wipes away a tear it looks like because of what they see what’s going on, right? He’s like, he’s being knifed in front of everyone without a knife, right? And he kind of leans over and says something to G Jinping as he’s leaving, and she doesn’t kind of acknowledge him at all. And it was, but it was a very public demonstration of a Muscle Flex, right, my G as well. I mean, that’s the way it looks to me. I’m no, no Chinese, you know, political expert. But did you watch that? Did you what did you think about that? Because to me, it was see it really seemed as a kind of a very clear message by GE to the world that he could have done this anytime, anywhere in the cover of darkness. No one was seen it but he did it in public in a very public way by

Sebastien Lai 35:57
I saw the video as well. It’s, I mean, I, you know, that’s the thing. We’re selling we’re trying to at the moment, it really seems like it’s one man at the wheel. So so I don’t know why. And again, you know, like I mentioned, I don’t, I’m not an expert in Chinese politics. So I guess my reaction is same as yours. It’s just it’s, it seems like a statement and you know, the the the, you know, maybe caused the consolidation of power.

Robert Bryce 36:37
Well, that’s what that’s kind of the read that a lot of people have is that GE is now consolidating his power. He’s been in power since 2012. If memory serves, is he the new Mao?

Sebastien Lai 36:52
Again, I’m not trying to I’m not trying to expert. Fair enough. Yeah.

Robert Bryce 36:58
Do you contact people in China? Do you have? No, you have deep roots in Hong Kong? But do you do you do you stay in touch with people in China?

Sebastien Lai 37:08
I do not. I do not want to be honest, even before. So that wasn’t actually allowed in China, because of its pro democracy says because it was journalism for the last 20 More than 20 years. So as a result, we never really went up there. I have found the roots in Shandong and Guangzhou. And it’s actually quite a it’s actually one thing that I do want to go to one day, I know that, you know, coming from my father is released and stuff. Makes it sort of primitive for me. But yeah, it’s definitely places I want to go to one day, but I haven’t I haven’t seen, you know, the relatives from my father’s side or from my mother’s side. And so as a result, I don’t really have anybody to contact in China.

Robert Bryce 38:00
But you’d like to go sometime.

Sebastien Lai 38:03
Hey, it’s it’s um, you know, I think everybody every can’t speak for every immigrant, but I think a lot of immigrants always. Yeah, I mean, I guess in the context in Hong Kong would be that I guess, my father was a refugee and in Hong Kong, and I think there’s always a, for me, at least for the next generation. There’s always a curiosity maybe

Robert Bryce 38:34
about from and where those routes are, that you can meet for yourself. Yeah. Yeah.

Sebastien Lai 38:41
Well, these all comes home, you know, for me. But but at least, yeah, like a curiosity thing, just so what are

Robert Bryce 38:48
the differences? I haven’t been to I haven’t been to China. I haven’t been to Hong Kong. I haven’t been to Taiwan. What’s the what are the differences between Hong Kong you’ve lived in? You know, you’re a native of Hong Kong, you obviously love Hong Kong, and your dad did as well. And now you’re in Taipei. What’s the difference between Hong Kong and Taiwan? What differences are there that you see? I mean, do you think is palpable on the street? Is there is there nervousness in Taiwan now about a possible Chinese invasion that a lot of people are talking about this, but how does what is the vibe in Taiwan these days?

Sebastien Lai 39:20
So, obviously, elections are coming up in next January, so very soon. Is that is that fear of war? I don’t think so. I if you speak to a lot of Taiwanese people, they always tell you that look, China’s been threatening to attack for a very long time, and I think they see it as a they said the same way as they see

Robert Bryce 39:48
it again, please. They see it the same way.

Sebastien Lai 39:51
As they see earthquakes. Taiwan has very bad earthquakes. And sometimes it can be existential in the sense that if you have a very bad earthquake in your in the building, that’s That’s it. They had one I think in the early 2000s In hydrocodone that killed a lot of people, incredibly unfortunate, then a horrible, horrible event. But they see it as something that is out of their control. And if it happens, then obviously, it’ll be horrible for everyone. But if it doesn’t, then then that then life goes on. So there’s, there’s there’s attitude like that, from my understanding, there’s actually like that. And it’s, it’s different to Hong Kong in the sense that well, first of all, this is why this is a it’s a democratic country. You know, this is a place where there’s Han Chinese people and democracy.

So So yeah, so it’s, you know, you should come visit.

Robert Bryce 40:52
But in terms of the culture, is it do you feel a difference in the in the like, on the street, you see differences in the food or the obviously the democracy is different, but how does it manifest itself? How do you How would you describe it? If I was, obviously as a gringo guy in Texas, you know, asking, well explain the difference between Hong Kong and Taiwan?

Sebastien Lai 41:12
So it’s incredibly different. I mean, even the legal and this is, you know, we’re talking about pre National Security Law, Hong Kong, actually, surprisingly, for for many years, because Hong Kong has so Taiwan had the white terror before the for true democracy when it was basically under martial law. Again, I’m no, I don’t, I don’t understand time, all the time. And his politics that well. So Hong Kong was actually more free than Taiwan at some point. Hong Kong, the Taiwanese legal system is different from Hong Kong legal system as well on como is common law. I think. Tony said the Taiwanese is much more suitable. i Yeah. I mean, it’s such a broad question. I’m trying to think if there’s any pops, very clear examples of how they are different. But it’s, it’s a completely different place. I mean, it’s, it’s very obvious, but it’s a completely different place, and even in the culture is completely different. Hong Kong, obviously, this, Hong Kong, obviously, is a city of migrants, it’s a lot of people who left trying to escape China and wanted a better life in Hong Kong. What I want it’s it’s, it’s a bit of both I can t came, and they were really seen as the people who Instituto Whitehair at war, they didn’t switch to white terror. But there were also local, Chinese. So. So I think it’s, it’s a very, it’s a very young and New Democracy. You know, the context of the world. And I, there is, I think there is a real there’s a real pursuit. For a very clear national identity, I think, if you asked most, how many people that would tell you that the not Chinese companies,

Robert Bryce 43:09
and just look it up. But these are things I didn’t know until, you know, obviously, this is one of the reasons I like my job. I’m learning all the time. So the population of Taiwan has 23, almost 24 million population of Hong Kong is about what 7 million, 8 million, something like that, if I remember memory serves. So it seems like it there. So let’s talk about us versus China. And you were here in the US, obviously. So you’re familiar with the US. As I look at it as obviously armchair, you know, an analyst here seems like China invading Taiwan would be just a terrible idea, right? It would cause you know, multiple cascading effects economically and sabotage the Taiwan Taiwanese economy to sabotage the Chinese economy. It seems like just a very bad idea. But, you know, there’s still, you know, the speculation raging, there was an article in the Wall Street Journal just the other day about this very thing saying, Oh, you think bad things are bad. Now, with the war in Israel with a war in Ukraine? Well, if China invades Taiwan, then things then things really go haywire. But it seems like what you’re saying is that the people in Taiwan are they don’t really think about it that much like, well, we can’t do anything about that. We’re not going to we’re not going to focus on that we’re going to prepare but we got your big business or manufacturing, there’s the business of making things happening. So it’s not that’s not what dominates the politics or even the the daily discourse is that I’m what I’m hearing.

Sebastien Lai 44:34
I’m, again, I’m no expert in this but

Robert Bryce 44:38
but you have lived there now what three years I have lived,

Sebastien Lai 44:41
but yeah, it does. It definitely does. It does dominate during election time.

Robert Bryce 44:48
Of the potential for the for war invasion.

Sebastien Lai 44:52
Exactly. Yeah. So candidates will run on saying that you want So to win if so and so wins, then China will invade or, like, it’s sort of like, you know, fear monger. Right? Yeah. So what was the question?

Robert Bryce 45:13
No, that’s fine. But yeah, I would expect it would be an issue that would be, you know, common everyday, right, that people are thinking about this possibility, because it is this is the, you know, the such a dire, you know, outcome. And China is doing a lot of saber rattling in the South China Sea and the nine dash map and these, you know, it’s claims on territory in the in the region are ongoing. So, but it’s is, you know, looking at it from a distance, it just seems incredibly complicated, incredibly dangerous if this were to happen, but also, you were forced to go to Taiwan, right? You didn’t really do this. You. I mean, we I’m hearing you say it, you love Hong Kong, you’d rather be in Hong Kong, but Taiwan is where you’re you had to go because otherwise you might have ended up in prison as well. Is that fair to say? Or was that?

Sebastien Lai 46:09
I guess? What? No, actually, I came to Taiwan, because we had busy I didn’t know that he was going to I was still in quarantine. Actually, when someone knocked on my door at five in the morning. Tell me that tag was that was arrested. So I it wasn’t, it was for what actually came before work. Yeah, so it was quite it was quite lucky for me. Because seven days after that was taken away.

Robert Bryce 46:41
So your quarantine for COVID? Then it was that was

Sebastien Lai 46:45
exactly? Oh, sorry. Yeah, it was quarantine for COVID. It was 2020. Yeah, I mean, I actually that’s one of the things against the backdrop of COVID. A lot of which obviously was a horrible, huge, enormous tragedy. Hong Kong, us that tragedy, as cover for a lot of these changes in the legal system.

Robert Bryce 47:11
The the crackdown. So the actual I guess that’s right. So the national security law was implemented in June or July of 2020. Then so this was right around the time of the lockdown. So that the COVID COVID. In the National Security Law kind of came together then. Yeah. Interesting. I didn’t, hadn’t thought about that. It was

Sebastien Lai 47:35
it was what they used to stop a lot of the protests

Robert Bryce 47:40
that the COVID is used as a way to justify the

Sebastien Lai 47:43
as a weapon. Yeah.

Robert Bryce 47:45
Okay. I have to ask this because I’ve had a Lena chan on the podcast and Matt Ridley, when we’ve just talked about COVID. This doesn’t have anything to do with your dad, do you think was a lab leak? I mean, you know, there’s a look at when you look at what what is. I mean, we’ve talked about truth in government. Right and no, and what has happened, right? And is there the evidence certainly appears to indicate lab leak, which Matt Ridley and Alena chan marvelous book they wrote called viral by that both of them on the podcast. Does that make sense to you that it would have been a lab leak out of China?

Sebastien Lai 48:23
I don’t know. I’d have to read your book. And even then, I think then then your your two guests? I don’t know. i All I know is that the the government took full advantage of it once once it once it.

Robert Bryce 48:40
Right. Well, that’s why that’s what I mean. It’s not like oh, well, they release the virus to help, you know, with a crackdown. Yeah, exactly. It is. But it is interesting that it would be coincident, right, that those issues that the that the virus in the lock, that the spread of the of COVID would be helpful in some ways to the Chinese government in terms of cracking down on the pro democracy movement in Hong Kong, and it’s just occurring to me now. I’m just, you know,

Sebastien Lai 49:07
I think they just I think they saw a window. I think they saw a window. Because Hong Kong obviously, we had the protests and as you mentioned, it was a protest with like 2 million people going back, which in the streets,

Robert Bryce 49:17
streets in 2019, right. Yeah. Exactly. Right. Yeah. So in the in the, in the the virus is discovered in November of 2019. And then really goes viral in January, February March of 2020. I know these because that was when my book came out was March of 2020. And I remember it very well because you know, you remember dates when your kids are born a book was coming out. Okay, so let’s let’s move on. So you’re in Taiwan. We can we we contact each other first on WhatsApp, which is secure. Do you are you being monitored by the Chinese government?

Sebastien Lai 50:02
Well, I mean, I would, I would hope not. I guess that’s also the thing about Taiwan. That’s pretty good. It’s not as I feel relatively safe in Taiwan. Again, because, you know, like I mentioned before, it’s why it’s zero or one thing, right? It’s pretty binary. Even life in Taiwan is great, which is what it is now. For those that exist existential threat, which is which is China attacking? So I yeah, I don’t, I don’t think I’m one of them. I would hope.

Robert Bryce 50:38
But do you take precautions? I asked. Because when I interviewed Matt and Alena Chan, when particularly when they were writing their book, they were very careful, right? They always were sick, were communicating on secure channels. Are you do you take those kinds of steps? What do you do? Do you think about this? And and how you do communications? Do you use whatsapp or secure secure protocols? How do you what do you think about that? Or how do you manage your own? Your own communications?

Sebastien Lai 51:09
Yeah, so I use, I use signal to communicate, right. You know, there’s a lot of sort of digital hygiene, that I actually I think it’s quite important for most people to know, just because even if your opponent, even if the person that you’re angering is on China, it’s still very easy, actually, for more relatively easy for people to access your information. You know, actually, it’s like two factor. Authentication, a lot of these things that can be done to make it a tad bit harder visit is I had a briefing briefing on this. So you know, basic hygiene. But from my understanding, speaking to people we know is that in the end day, if they wanted to tap your devices, that there are there are ways to do it. You just all you do and basic hygiene is that you protect yourself against a part of that. Right.

Robert Bryce 52:19
So, back to your dad, we’ve covered a lot of different things. And I’m not trying to be you know, I’m as you can tell, I’m easily distracted. But I think you know, I want to get back to your, your your father and in his imprisonment. So he was now he was arrested when he will he’s now 75 or 76.

Sebastien Lai 52:38
So yeah, he’s almost 2016. So he would

Robert Bryce 52:41
be when he’s released if this five years, nine months sentence is carried out, he will be 81 or 82. Then when he’s released, if that is in rough terms.

Sebastien Lai 52:55
Yeah, I think he’s already said he’s already served a year of that sentence. Well, I say operating like it’s completely unjust and dusty, imprisoned. Yeah, he’d be like, 7980. I mean, again, you know, I, at his age, I think every single day. In prison, he risked his life. So.

Robert Bryce 53:18
So do you. And don’t ask this with any joy? Do you despair that I mean, you have to have hope about this, because you’re working to try and get him fried. But are there days when you just think this isn’t going to work out? Are there days where you have to be optimistic, right? What? What keeps, I guess, let me put it this way, what keeps you optimistic, what keeps you what drives your your hopefulness that this will happen that your father will be released?

Sebastien Lai 53:46
There’s a I saw this interview in 1996, I think it was before the handover. And it was actually in the BBC archives. And he’s asked if he wants to stay in Hong Kong. You know, knowing that he has this for democracy newspaper, knowing that the government the Chinese government, doesn’t like it that much. Meaning that he might be arrested, even 1997. And he, he tears up a smart thing. He says, That’s my home, unless my life is threatened. I’m gonna stay here. And I think at that point of view that

you know, he was fully committed to it. And it’s the same with me, you know, I think

like my father, I know that I’m doing the right thing. And it’s emotionally it’s a roller coaster. As you mentioned, you never really know what’s going to happen to him or whatnot. But but I do it with a clean conscience and is the right thing. It’s also the next necessary thing. So, you know, I just I keep charging ahead until my father is released.

Robert Bryce 55:11
Well, I can, yeah, I can only imagine. I mean, my my father has been dead now 30 years when I think about him all the time and think, oh, you know, what would I want to talk to him about, you know, or sports? You know, he’s a big Dallas Cowboys fan, right? Yeah, right. Right. Right. You know, so what are the things that you’d want to want to reconnect with him about? And so maybe it’d be, you know, French food or something like the things that you used to talk about, right. So we just have a few minutes left seven, I really appreciate your time, my guest to get a sub lie. He’s in Taiwan. His father, Jimmy Lai is a pro democracy leader who is in prison. He’s in Stanley Prison in Hong Kong for being for publishing, for being a publisher for being in the free press and having the the audacity to speak truth to power. And I recommend highly that you watch the Hong Kong the film made by the Acton Institute. So just a couple more questions. So because I like to keep my podcasts right about an hour and we’re getting close. What are you reading? What books are you? What are the things that you are reading? Now you read fiction, nonfiction? What do you read? Or do you have time for reading?

Sebastien Lai 56:15
At the moment, I’m reading Sam Waltons autobiography.

Robert Bryce 56:20
But really, yeah, really? Founder of Walmart and

Sebastien Lai 56:24
exactly the founder of Walmart. And I’m almost done with the book actually. But it chronicles his life and how to Walmart and the principles that he used in passing. I mean, for me, at least, because I’m, you know, very interested in business and whatnot. So it is incredibly fascinating. And it’s almost like having this guy speak to you. So really, I think it’s a great book. Yeah.

Robert Bryce 56:48
So any other books? The ones that I don’t know what I can look that one up, but Sam Waltons autobiography, what else?

Sebastien Lai 56:57
I I’m giving rotor surf and a crack as well. So I’ve been that. I mean, I’ve started reading it, but I got sort of take it and attach it or taken away by the Sam Walton book. The Road to Serfdom is a very special book for for, I guess, my family, but for my father, because it’s the book that really, I think he was given it when he was 2027 28. And what I mean, but anyway, when he was in New York, I think in his 20s. And he says that he changed his life. And he read it. I think he read it and what I mean he read it like 1215 times, because he didn’t understand it.

Robert Bryce 57:40
This is the famous book by Frederick Hayek, Hayek Exactly, yeah. On, on, on capitalism and free markets and free people. I have one more question. But I wanted to just back up because I think I can answer that. I’ve asked started asking this question about who your heroes are, who you admire. And obviously, your father is one of them. He obviously in he’s an inspirational guy. But other people that you think about that you are, think her heroic that you would or that you admire in public life or in your own life today.

Sebastien Lai 58:15
There’s a lot of as you mentioned, my father is my hero. But I think in different aspects of my life. You have different people that you look up to. So for example, I do some investing, for my family office, and a person that I love to tremendously look up to tremendously. And that aspect is men like Warren Buffett like Charlie Munger. In in campaigning, the there’s, there’s a lot of people that I look up to, you know, people like Mandela, Vaclav Havel. It’s yeah, I think that’s a benefit of books. I’m really happy that you asked that question. Because it really is that it’s an opportunity that it’s almost like you had these people, you could see these people like people’s lives. And in the in the example of Sam Walton, for example, it’s like that person is speaking directly to you. And so as a result, I’ve learned, obviously, everybody knows Walmart, but you find out his story, and then you find out that actually, there’s someone that is incredible. And so that’s also someone I look up to now in the context of business.

Robert Bryce 59:32
Sure. So last question said what gives you hope?

Sebastien Lai 59:43
I think

I think one’s ability to affect one’s faith, faith. I mean, my father was my father came to Hong Kong when he was 12. And started from scratch started from nothing, he worked at a glove factory. And, you know, the day he landed, because he had to pay for his shipping fees. And he still has these sort of physical memories from one of his fingers partially cut off, because he got kind of stuck in a machine. One of these years he can’t really hear out of because of the working conditions. And a thread or he was he always tells me stories about those times. As a very happy, obviously, objectively, it was a very hard time. And it for him was always very happy for him. He never, it wasn’t like you started enjoying life. Once he had money here he was he was always he always enjoyed life. He always enjoyed life, because he always knew that when Hong Kong free in the context of Hong Kong, he always had these freedoms that he fell in love with. But even in China, I think he was, he was always very happy. So I think, using my father as a blueprint for that, it really is one’s one’s ability to affect one’s life. That gives me hope. In this context, I hope I could also affect my father’s life and see him released. And that gives me a lot of hope.

Robert Bryce 1:01:30
That’s a good place to stop. So that is where we will, in fact, stop. said thanks for your time. I’m really pleased to reconnect and I was really impressed when I heard you speak in. Back in August in Colorado at the conference, my guest again has been said lie. As Father Jimmy Lai is being imprisoned by the Chinese government for no good reason on trumped up charges. That let’s be clear that call a spade a spade. That’s what it is trumped up charges. You can follow him. You can follow on substack. Support Jimmy Lai, at support Jimmy Lai, free Jimmy lai.com And then watch the Hong Kong or you will be glad you did. So it’s been a pleasure to reconnect with you. Thanks.

Sebastien Lai 1:02:14
Sorry. Oh,

Robert Bryce 1:02:15
what did I say on Twitter? substack. Okay. And getting my social media on, on Twitter at support Jimmy Lai, and then I gave you the other URL. So you have those So, said thanks a million for coming on the podcast been a real pleasure. Thanks for having me. And take all of us in podcast land. Tune into the next episode of the power hungry podcast. Until then. See you soon


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