Posted:  July 28, 2014


Probably there aren’t many places where revelations about holding a foreign passport and traveling to Myanmar would be regarded as old-fashioned muck-raking.  But this is Hong Kong and the tagline for Beijing’s counter-campaign against the democracy movement’s recent successes is that old stand-by, “foreign forces.”   No stone is being left unturned and there seem to be moles lurking and leaking everywhere.  The aim is to mobilize public opinion against pan-democrats and the rallying cry is that dreaded word “foreigner.”   Currently in the line of fire are university professor Joseph Cheng and Apple Daily publisher Jimmy Lai.

Beijing and the pro-mainland media have orchestrated many such blasts here since the 1980s.  That was when Hong Kong first learned the British would be leaving in 1997 and pro-democracy agitation began in earnest.   The charges typically entail a few selected leaders (founder of the Democratic Party, Martin Lee, is the perennial favorite) to serve as exemplary targets.  They receive the “traitor” label and with it the accusation about using Hong Kong as a base for overthrowing Chinese communist mainland rule.  This last goes all the way back to the days just after 1949 when Hong Kong really was being used for that purpose. 

The old accusation still lurks not too far beneath the surface, ready for recycling from time to time in response to democrats’ call for an “end to one-party rule.”   But today the old accusation comes with an updated charge and an immediate aim, namely, to push back against pan-democrats’ campaign for a set of “genuine” electoral reform proposals that can pass muster in accordance with “international standards.”    Cheng and Lai are the “model” targets, both prominent in the current political reform campaign, who are being used to exemplify the charge and discredit the campaign.

For those whose memories go back that far, it’s reminiscent of Maoist-era mobilization campaigns complete with struggle objects and a mass line component.   The latter is a new signature campaign organized by Robert Chow Yung 【周融】, a veteran media man with energy to spare who has been following Occupy Central organizers around town all year.  He likes to taunt them with the prospect of an uprising by his “silent majority” supporters and now claims to have found the way with his just-launched territory-wide signature campaign.   Its anti-Occupy Central objective is at least 800,000 names on the dotted line.  This he says will put him ahead of the 792,808 voters who turned out last month for Occupy Central’s mock referendum in favor of international standards and genuine reform (June 24, July 7 posts).


Joseph Cheng Yu-shek [鄭宇碩 ] is a political science professor at City University, as well as  a founding member of the Civic Party, and has been associated with Hong Kong’s contemporary democracy movement since its inception in the early 1980s.  More to the present point, Professor Cheng has during the past year become point man for pan-democrats’ universal suffrage drive by serving as convener of their all-party coalition Alliance for True Democracy. 

The Alliance’s combination three-part proposal won the most votes in Occupy Central’s mock referendum and Cheng himself has said he intends to join Occupy Central’s civil disobedience sit-in campaign if it’s necessary, that is, if the government does not allow reforms that at least approximate international standards.  The three-parts of the Alliance for True Democracy  proposal refer to nominating procedures for the 2017 Chief Executive election, that is:  either nomination by the voters themselves, or by political parties,  or by the existing conservative committee that has until now been endorsing Hong Kong’s Chief Executives.  The wide variation was necessary to keep everyone on board and present something like a pan-democratic united front. 

Joseph Cheng’s role as middle-man convener actually dates back to 2003 when he began working with pro-democracy politicians by serving as their candidate coordinator for the 2003 District Council election.  That was when pan-democrats decided to take themselves more seriously, after their big 2003 awakening upon discovering just how close they came to living under the mainland-mandated Article 23 national political security legislation. They agreed that they should stop competing against each other in local elections because they were losing too many to their conservative/loyalist opponents. 

Democrats thought then, and many still do, that running for the experience of running is as important as winning.  Too bad for them their real opponents think otherwise.  But Cheng did his best and has continued to work as mediator among pan-democrats.  Last year he graduated to the equally thankless task of Alliance for True Democracy convener.  They struggled to stay together just long enough to come up with the above set of reform proposals for the current electoral reform cycle.  Raymond “Mad Dog” Wong Yuk-man was an early dropout and Emily Lau Wai-hing’s Democratic Party has just followed suit.  But Joseph Cheng keeps trying to keep them all from doing too much damage to each other.

That presumably is the main reason why he was selected as a target.  The pretext is the case that could be made against him, specifically with respect to his immigration status and academic integrity.  After graduating from the University of Hong Kong, he studied in New Zealand and Australia where he earned his Ph.D.  Hence the “foreign” Australian passports that he, his wife, and his two children all hold.  He also had a local Hong Kong travel document which was informally referred to as a “Chinese registration” 【中國籍】.  He gave this up in 1997, evidently because China does not allow dual nationality and the family opted for Australian … a common precaution for those worried about Hong Kong’s post-1997 future.  

This seems to be what the accusing newspaper account was referring to with the claim that “for an unknown reason Cheng in 1997 voluntarily relinquished his Chinese registration 【中國籍】.”   In any case, there is no law against it unless the family wanted to become Legislative Councilors or apply for senior government jobs, which they have not done.   But what he did do, back in 2002, was apply for a post-1997 Hong Kong travel document without declaring his Australian passport. Instead, he allegedly claimed still to have a “Chinese registration.”  Upon investigation, the problem was discovered and he was not granted the local document. 

The campaign against him led off with a full front page expose of these facts on July 11, in Wen Wei Pao【文匯報】, the leading local pro-Beijing daily.  How this information came to light … whether volunteered by the Immigration Department itself or by a talkative confidant … was not revealed.*  But false declarations on immigration forms, noted the paper dramatically, can be subject to a 14-year jail sentence.  Evidently the intent is to intimidate as well as discredit because he now stands accused of having committed a potentially criminal offense.

Still, the 10-year-old immigration issue might not have mattered much had it not been coupled with another old charge against him, this one newly recycled by a former research assistant.  In 1995, Cheng had to step down from his position as Dean of Humanities and Social Science after it was discovered that he had copied passages of others’ work for publication as his own without attribution.  This old case is being recycled because the former research assistant has just lodged a complaint against Cheng for allowing his name to be listed first in a series of translated and edited articles published in 2003 and 2004, originally written in Chinese by others.  

Ta Kung Pao 【大公報】, another pro-Beijing paper, broke this news (July 8).  Asked why he had waited 10 years to lodge a complaint, the ex-assistant said until now he thought no one would pay any attention to him.  He didn’t explain why now. The other authors themselves are not involved in the complaint (South China Moring Post, July 10, 11).   But they probably soon will be because his university is launching a formal inquiry into the matter (Wen Wei Po, July 14).  A similar case of collaboration with mainland academics was quickly acknowledged by Cheng himself earlier this year (Ming Pao Daily, July 11, 15, 16).

Even this would not have mattered much since it was clearly a political set-up … had the pro-Beijing press and partisans not moved into full attack mode.  Wen Wei Pao followed up on July 15 with another full front page treatment featuring a cartoon of Cheng’s head atop a kangaroo’s body along with headlines and subtitles all around proclaiming that:  “A foreigner is leading Hong Kong’s political reform” …  “Cheng Yu-shek is an Australian so how can he qualify to lead Hong Kong’s political reform?” …  “Cheng Yu-shek is leading the Alliance for True Democracy; is this where its ‘international standards’ come from?” 

Picking up the refrain, pro-Beijing Legislative Councilor Ann Chiang Lai-wan led the way at the July 20 session of the weekly City Forum session in Victoria Park where she angrily challenged him saying that as a “foreigner” he was not qualified to discuss political reform. The better to discuss “international standards,” he might have retorted.  But the allegations resonate here and pan-democrats have been placed on the defensive …  so all he said was that as a permanent resident he had the right and was exercising it.


The new campaign against Jimmy Lai Chee-ying 【黎智英】is less damaging to the immediate cause of election reform, but the scatter-shot effect is sure to embarrass at least a handful of pro-democracy Legislative Councilors.  It’s also calculated to discredit virtually all of Hong Kong’s leading pro-democracy advocates by suggesting the extent of their reliance for funding on Lai … who has lived for years under a cloud of allegations about his ties to “foreign forces” and American financial forces in particular.

Jimmy Lai is the self-made boss of Next Media and Apple Daily, with a personality as brash and defiant as his anti-communist publications.  He could also hardly have more points against him in Beijing’s eyes.  Lai is a Roman Catholic and friend of Beijing’s bête noire Martin Lee, as well as that old agitator, Cardinal emeritus Joseph Zen.  Lai tried, unsuccessfully, to establish himself in Taiwan where he still publishes the local edition of Apple Daily

Lai also likes to contribute to pan-democrats and their causes and he apparently doesn’t care too much about trying to secure his communications, which he says he knows are being tapped and hacked.  His accounting system was compromised in 2011 producing dramatic headlines about the recipients of his largesse.  Now it has happened again with many more revelations from a document dump of 900 items complete with e-mails, financial records, and video files.  All were posted anonymously to media organizations on July 21 and filled front pages the next day.  

According to the documents, the authenticity of which Lai immediately confirmed, he has since 2012 donated HK$40 million to pan-democrats including close to $10 million to four political parties in April 2012, ahead of the Legislative Council election.  During the past year, both the Alliance for True Democracy and Occupy Central have been all over town with their fund-raising begging bowls and he responded with $700,000.  Martin Lee received $300,000, former Chief Secretary Anson Chan $3.5 million, and Cardinal Zen $6 million.

Again, as with Joseph Cheng’s foreign passport, it’s no crime to give or to receive.  And if the matter is pushed too far, pro-Beijing politicians are likely to suffer far greater embarrassment since they regularly boast of receiving millions all from undisclosed unknown sources.  But while contributions to groups and political parties require no disclosure, there are some rules to play by … like income tax declarations and conflicts of interest for Legislative Councilors.  

Election campaign expenditures are strictly controlled and accounted for and once elected, Legislative Councilors must disclose any contribution amounting to HK$10,000 or more, whether given by individuals or organizations …  within 14 days of receipt.   As it happens, for example, they recently debated alleged mainland pressure to withdraw advertising from Hong Kong publications including Apple Daily.

So far, no one has declared anything but according to the documents, and Lai’s memory, he gave substantial sums directly to five Councilors.  Of the five, however, two deny having received anything; two say they immediately turned the money over to their parties; and one cannot be reached for comment.  Nevertheless, pro-Beijing protesters were on the march within hours demanding investigations by the Inland Revenue Department, the Independent Commission Against Corruption, and the Legislative Council’s Committee on Members’ Interests.

What the partisans are really looking for among the investigations, however, are some smoking guns.  They have long-since convinced themselves that:  because Jimmy Lai’s business ventures have suffered substantial losses in recent years, and because one of his chief assistants, Mark Simon, is an American who once worked as a Pentagon analyst ….  THEREFORE, the real source of Lai’s contributions to pan-democrats must be the United States government!

And what better proof:  prominently featured among the documents dumped is evidence of Jimmy Lai’s friendship with none other than Paul Wolfowitz, disgraced former head of the World Bank, and before that U.S. deputy defense secretary in the Republican administration of George W. Bush, champion of his Iraq war policy, and before all that U.S. ambassador to Indonesia.   

Foreign-force allegations are underscored by photographs of Lai on a recent visit to Myanmar where he and Wolfowitz are pictured together at a meeting with its recently reformed military leaders.  Lai is currently turning his attention to the new opportunities in Myanmar where he is investing in two big development projects.  He is evidently collaborating with Wolfowitz who has also turned his attention to business prospects in Myanmar.  In fact, if the leaked documents are any indication, Lai was paying Wolfowitz for business services rendered, not the other way around.

Lai says, yes, he has contributed much to Hong Kong pan-democrats and he invites others to do likewise because democrats need help.  But no, he has never sought or accepted funds from any foreign power.  The money he gives away is his own to give and comes from no other  source.  

That’s not likely to satisfy the pro-Beijing camp, of course, and according to the old adage of campaign mud-slinging:  some of it always sticks … in the public mind if nowhere else, where partisans will try to ensure it remains.  Nor are they likely to think twice about the accuracy of the allegations or the fact that Beijing was a key ally to the Myanmar military junta before it decided to turn over a new leaf.

Local partisans need look no further than their own press accounts for validation.  Accordingly, Mark Simon  being  the middle-man link between Lai and the Hong Kong station of the Central Intelligence Agency handles the money end (Ta Kung Pao, July 22).**  But this time someone actually came “in person.”  Paul Wolfowitz, who visited Lai here in May, “was clearly concerned with Occupy Central’s referendum and with the July First march, exposing Jimmy Lai’s plot to join with America in disrupting Hong Kong” (Wen Wei Pao, July 22).  Probably Wolfowitz couldn’t care less  …  but that’s another story.

* In a personal statement posted on July 21, Joseph Cheng wrote that the 2002 passport application problem was known only to his family, his lawyer, and the government officials concerned.  He questions how such confidential government information could have been leaked to the Wen Wei Po (

**  After a second document dump on August 4, Jimmy Lai finally reported to the police asking for an investigation since malicious computer hacking is illegal here.  The police had said that without a formal complaint from the victim, they could/would not investigate.  …   And Mark Simon came forward to reveal something about his “mysterious” past.  His father was a 35-year veteran at the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, and he himself worked as a Pentagon intelligence analyst between 1986 and 1990.  But he insists he does not serve Jimmy Lai in any such undercover capacity as curently being alleged by the pro-Beijing media (AppleMing Pao, Aug. 5;  SCMP, Aug. 11).


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