Posted:  Feb. 25, 2013

 

No wonder Hong Kong’s new Chief Executive flew off to England at the start of the Chinese Lunar New Year holiday and didn’t return for 10 days.  He had to get away.  Anyone would.  Leung Chun-ying has not had a moment’s peace since he was elected almost a year ago, on March 25, 2012.  Yet another new scandal was brewing as he flew away and it continues to percolate now that he has returned to yet more demands for yet more investigations into his conduct and character.   It might have been dismissed as an amusing holiday interlude … if only he had not overreacted to the latest provocation … and if only the legal and political implications were not so serious.

Besides CY Leung himself, the episode featured two principals:  pro-Beijing businessman Lew Mon-hung [ 劉夢熊 ] and Joseph Lian Yi-zheng [ 練乙錚 ], an economist by training and political commentator by inclination.  The only thing the two men have in common is their contribution to Leung’s latest round of embarrassments. They also both hold Ph.D. degrees but Lian earned his whereas rumor has it that Lew did not.

Lew Mon-hung, who is nicknamed the “Dream Bear” because that’s what his name means in Chinese, was until recently one of the Chief Executive’s most enthusiastic fans.  Lew has now turned on his prospective benefactor with a vengeance accusing him:  of offering advantages in return for electoral support last year; of lying about his unauthorized home renovations; and of treating pan-democrats as mortal enemies.

Joseph Lian then picked up the story extrapolating, in his usual style, from the facts known and surmised about Lew’s case.   The Chief Executive’s problem, wrote Lian, is not so much about integrity …  a reference to the ongoing unauthorized home alterations saga …  but rather about political corruption with implied links to organized crime, known here as the triad societies.  Lian compounded the accusations by suggesting that the Chief Executive probably deserved shuanggui [雙規 ], a mainland term used with reference to the procedure whereby communist party disciplinarians try to keep errant high ranking officials in line.  Those suspected of wrong-doing, whether or not they are party members, must when summoned submit to investigation and interrogation.  The term can be translated as “double designation”, meaning suspects must make themselves available when and where instructed to do so, at the designated time and place.

DREAM BEAR’S PREDICAMENT

        Lew Mon-hung is easily the most colorful personality in the cast of Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing political actors.  Traditional loyalists keep their opinions of him mostly to themselves, some others openly disdain the “spectacle” he makes of himself, outside observers think he might actually harbor liberal tendencies, and pan-democrats can scarcely contain their glee at his current legal predicament.  They are responsible for his English nickname because it sounds funnier in English than Chinese …  which has some elegant literary allusions that are totally out-of-sync with his character.

Officially, however, his rags-to-riches Hong Kong story began when he swam here from a nearby county in 1973.   Like many other Guangzhou middle school students he wanted to escape the life of a rusticated city youth assigned to work in the countryside.   Such “freedom swimmer” arrivals then were illegal but they were allowed to stay.  Lew worked his way up from the factory floor to become a successful businessman (now executive director of the Pearl Oriental Oil Company) and vociferous patriot.  He has qualified in this latter respect by becoming a frequent contributor of opinion pieces to the pro-Beijing press where he likes to lambast pan-democrats such as Professor Sing Ming (Feb. 6, 2012 post), autonomy movement colonial flag bearers (Nov. 23, 2012 post), and so on.  For this and much else he was rewarded by being appointed one of Hong Kong’s delegates to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (honorary companion body of the National People’s Congress).   But that was the previous CPPCC delegation.  The new team has just been appointed ahead of the first annual meetings next month of the 12th NPC/CPPCC.  Lew’s name is conspicuously absent from the list.

In fact, Lew has only just emerged from an interrogation by Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) where he was questioned for five hours and arrested on suspicion of “perverting the course of justice.”  This charge resulted from his attempt, in effect, to blackmail the Chief Executive into interceding with the ICAC over another case, an attempt that led to the above dramatic accusations against the Chief Executive.

The first case concerned Lew’s January 8 arrest on suspicion of corporate fraud related to insider trading of a listed company.  But then he did a really dumb thing, allegedly sending a letter the next day to Leung Chun-ying reminding him of his pre-election promises and threatening to let loose a “political bombshell” if Leung did not intercede on Lew’s behalf with ICAC commissioner Simon Peh over the insider trading case.  As yet unverified copies of the January 9 letter have since been leaked to the press (Apple, Feb. 17, Ming Pao, Feb. 18).

Meanwhile, Lew had already set off his bombshell.   The January 9 threat, although not yet public knowledge, was made good in the interview he gave to the Chinese-language weekly magazine iSun Affairs  (陽光時務週刊, no. 40, Jan. 24).  It was in this interview that he spelled out the above accusations, namely, that he had actively campaigned for Leung last year and had been promised in return a seat on his Executive Council cabinet if he won.  Such a promise might violate Hong Kong election law if made, but if it was the promise was not kept.  Lew also said he knew Leung’s explanations about his household renovations were false.  And he declared that Leung regarded pan-democrats as political enemies (Ming Pao Daily, Jan. 25).

These revelations made headlines only because one of Leung’s most vociferous champions was the source.  Another of Leung’s supporters, who did receive her cabinet appointment, laughed off the episode during a February 3rd television interview.  She said Lew’s accusations were very “entertaining,” that she had heard him say the same things before and thought they were “probably true.”  The speaker was Regina Ip, famous for her role as a ranking civil servant in promoting the abortive 2003 Article 23 legislation and now a directly elected Legislative Councilor.

To date, then, Lew has not only lost all hope of official appointment but he has been arrested twice and had to post bail both times, once on January 8 for suspected insider trading and again on February 20 for attempted intimidation.  If convicted he is looking at some serious jail time.  As for the Chief Executive, the ICAC is also looking into the possibility that he may have violated the election ordinance … and then there is the inevitable problem of guilt by association, which is where Joseph Lian picked up the story.

INFERENCES AND EXTRAPOLATIONS

        Leung Chun-ying himself said little except for a “nothing new, nothing true” one-liner about Lew’s allegations, which are now under legal investigation.  But Joseph Lian’s affront was something else again and this time it was the Chief Executive who set off a bombshell compounding the negative impact many times over.  Joseph Lian is a respected essayist and man of many talents, currently commuting between Hong Kong and a university teaching assignment in Japan.  Before that he was an editor and regular columnist at the Chinese-language Hong Kong Economic Journal  [信報 ].  The cause of Leung’s anger was a January 29 opinion piece in the paper discussing the implications of Lew’s case.  The essay’s title (roughly translated) said it all:  “Leung’s integrity problem is not so bad, but involvement with triads could deserve shuanggui.”

If the Chief Executive had not asked his lawyers to send a threatening letter to the newspaper, Lian’s article might have gone more-or-less unnoticed amid the rush of  Chinese New Year preparations.  It was even longer than his usual and he first mulled over the now familiar story of Beijing’s support for the two candidates, Leung and Henry Tang, in last year’s election contest.  But then Lian’s narrative re-focused on Hong Kong with a  provocative comment about Leung’s arrival as Chief Executive being the product of a “red father and a black mother” ….  red for communist, black for corruption.  Nor did he mean just any kind of ordinary corruption.  The essay concluded with a lengthy discussion of the question “Is Hong Kong society being triad-ized   [黑道化]?

He first referred to the known fact of that famous campaign dinner organized last year in the New Territories by Lew Mon-hung.  A triad society gangster … known in the area as Mr. Fixit … was included on the February 10 guest list along with rural community leaders, and members of Leung’s campaign staff (Mar. 21, 2012 post).  Rural community leaders accounted for over 20 votes on the Election Committee and were thought to be supporters of Henry Tang.  Lian went on to claim that triads supported Leung’s election “100%,” and asked what might become of Hong Kong society after five years with such a man at the helm.  He concluded by suggesting that mainland leaders, however corrupt themselves, had ways of dealing with such officials.  Perhaps a spell of shuanggui would be able to ferret out the true extent of Liang’s triad connections and those of the people around him.

The essay was meant to be provocative and insulting.  But instead of just issuing a protest statement, Leung had his lawyers send a formal letter to the paper demanding a retraction.   The episode was transformed instantly into a freedom-of-the-press issue, reinforcing general fears about the dictatorial inclinations of Hong Kong’s new “red” chief executive.

         HKEJ editors naturally refused to retract but they did issue an apology of sorts, pointedly addressed to readers rather than to Leung.  The editors and author expressed regret for any false impression that might have been created since the article, they said, was only hypothetical meaning “if” Leung was involved with organized crime, not that he actually already was (HKEJ, Feb. 7).  The only problem with the apology is that “if” was also only implied, as in the essay’s title:   誠信問題已非要害  梁氏涉黑 實可雙規 。

To place all this in better perspective, it’s helpful to think in terms of local distinctions.  Last year in reporting on “that dinner,” held in a seafood restaurant out on the northernmost New Territories coast near the Hong Kong-mainland border, Chinese-language newspapers often used the term “rivers and lakes people” [江湖人物] with reference to the guests.  A journalist friend explained the distinction between “rivers and lakes people” and “black society” [黑社會] or triad members.  He used a simple rule of thumb.  If we write about someone being a black society member, “he will definitely be angry” … especially if he isn’t.   But if we say someone is a rivers-and-lakes person, “he won’t mind.”   The latter has ancient associations dating back hundreds of years to “Water Margin” literature, heroes of the marshes, all men are brothers, and so on … “like Robin Hood.” Nowadays they may have dealings with triads but they are not part of the organized crime scene.  Lew Mon-hung, at least until his recent legal troubles, was accepted as a rivers-and-lakes character.  Since Joseph Lian used triad terminology with reference to the Chief Executive, by definition he had to be angry.

suzpepper@gmail.com 

 

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