ST reporter accused of being a spy
- ST reporter accused of being a spy
- What ST/SPH is doing to help Ching Cheong
- Wider reactions to Ching Cheong's arrest
- A new connection: Ching Cheong and Lu Jianhua
Background on the man:
Ching Cheong (程翔), 55 years of age, graduated from Hong Kong University in the 1973 with a degree in Economics, was among the very first HKU graduates to join the pro-China newspaper Wen Wei Po (文汇报) in 1974. (add: in so doing, he apparently gave up a job with the HK government paying some Hk$4000/mo for a job that pays HK$300/mo; source) In the reforms of the early 1980s, WWP was the first HK press to be granted permission to set up office in Beijing and Ching Cheong was appointed the bureau chief there. After the Tiananmen incident of June 4, 1989, the chief editor of WWP Li Zhisong (李子诵) was fired for protesting the crackdown in a front page four character editorial "With bitterness and disgust" (痛心疾首). Ching Cheong was among those who left WWP with Li Zhisong (some 40+ journalists in all). (add:) Ching Cheong, Li Zhisong and others started a magazine commenting on China called Contemporary (当代)> The Chinese authorities allegedly tried to shut it down by having Beijing-controlled companies warn potential advertisers not to do business with the magazine.
In 1996, Ching Cheong joined the Straits Times (he also became a Singapore PR)), and was stationed at one point in Taipei; more recently, he was assigned to Hong Kong where he covers news relating to China. Ching Cheong also holds a British overseas national passport. He has been collecting historical material relating to the Tiananmen incident for many years, possibly for a book. There are indications that he has managed to acquire information relating to the Tiananmen crackdown from many Chinese Communist Party cadres. (from various sources)
Background on the possible Zhao Ziyang/Tiananmen Incident connection:
According to his wife, Ching Cheong's went to Guangzhou on Apr 22 in pursuit of an manuscript of interviews conducted over a decade with Zhao Ziyang (赵紫阳; died past January), the former leader of the Chinese Communist kept under house arrest for being sympathetic to the Tiananmen protesters. The interviewer is one Zong Fengming (宗凤鸣), long time comrade (from revolutionary days), friend and Qigong instructor to Zhao. Radio Free Asia (June 1) just did an interview with Zong, which has a lot more details. Important detail: Zong denies that he arranged to meet Ching Cheong to pass him the manuscript--he says he does not even know the man; he believes that the latter has been set up.
Zong published a biography of Zhao Ziyang in Hong Kong last year; despite pressure from the the authorities to desist and the recent events involving Ching Cheong, he says he will go ahead with a projected second volume. He told AFP:
I am already 80 years, what can they do they me. Zong said that he has already made preparations in the event that he is arrested or his house searched [by the authorities]. He said that he has already given the manuscript [of the interviews with Zhao] to many people, the manuscript is very safe. "We represent history, and we wish that the manuscript become material for history [writing]. He also said, "Zhao Ziyang is a historical figure, we wish that people will be able to read just what actually said, and be able to understand his perspective on the problems, especially his views on the Tiananmen incident. (Translated from New Century Net)More on the WaPo article. (add:) More on Zhao Ziyang here
Basic timeline: (From various sources)
Apr 22: Ching Cheong went to Guangzhou, according to his wife Mary Lau (Liu Minyi 刘敏仪), in pursuit of a manuscript of an interview with Zhao Ziyang (赵紫阳). He was arrested by the Chinese authorities.
Apr 23: Ching Cheong called his wife and arranged for his laptop computer to be brought to the mainland.
Apr 24 (approx.): Ching Cheong called ST to say that he will not be available for assignments for some time, hinting that he's in trouble.
Apr 28: Ching Cheong called ST briefly to say that he is helping the Chinese authorities with some investigations.
At some point, both ST and Mary Lau were warned by the Chinese authorities not to publicise Ching Cheong's detention. ST/SPH attempted to secure Ching Cheong's release through diplomatic means and had been in close contact with both the PRC embassy in Singapore and as well as the authorities in mainland China.
May 29: This is the fourth call Ching Cheong was allowed to make to his wife since the one on Apr 23. He urged her not to tell reporters about his detention, but when a security agent picked up the phone and invited Lau to come to Beijing to see her husband, he grabbed the phone and told her to stay in Hong Kong, she said.
May 30: Mary Lau decided to go public after learning privately from a mainland government official that her husband would be charged with "stealing core state secrets". Washington Post published it's article on the story. Since then, the story has been picked up by media from around the world. (add: it appears that the first newspaper to carry the news was the Hong Kong Economic Times (经济日报). May of the editorial team at the daily were classmates of Ching Cheong and former colleagues in WWP. It seems that they have know about his troubles but did not go public upon the request of Mary Lau. Interestingly the initial HK media reaction was somewhat subdued. It was only after China's MFA made the statement saying that Ching Cheong was begin held for spying and had already confessed that widespread protests were voiced; source)
May 31: China's MFA issued an official statement on Ching Cheong's case (the transcript of the press conference was removed from their website June 1). This is the first time that the Chinese authorities admitted that they have Ching Cheong in their custody since Apr 22 and presently in Beijing. Spokesman Kong Quan said that Ching Cheong has "admitted that in recent years he has been following the instructions of overseas intelligence organizations and has undertaken intelligence collecting activities." He also denied that Ching's detention was related to his efforts to gain access to the interviews of Zhao Ziyang: "I can tell you plainly that Ching's case is not connected to Zhao Ziyang at all... The key thing is that Ching himself admitted to his illegal activities," said Kong, according to Reuters (source).
Links, snippets, commentary:
This is not looking good (con't from here). From Reuters (via ABC):
May 30, 2005 — BEIJING (Reuters) - A Hong Kong-based reporter for Singapore's Straits Times newspaper, who has been in custody in China for more than a month, was a spy for foreign agencies, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday.Singapore Press Holdings is "shocked" by spy charge, adding, "Until we see incontrovertible evidence, we stand by our belief that he has always acted in the best interests of The Straits Times" (Forbes, May 31)
Ching Cheong was detained by agents of the state security apparatus on April 22 in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, his wife, Mary Lau, said on Monday.
"Ching admitted that in recent years he engaged in intelligence gathering activities on the mainland on instructions from foreign intelligence agencies and accepted huge amounts of spying fees," the ministry said in a statement. Currently, relevant departments are investigating his spying activities," the statement said without elaborating on which country or countries were his paymaster.
Meanwhile: the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a written statement, "Ching Cheong confessed: following instructions from a foreign intelligence agency, he engaged in intelligence gathering activities in China and received a large spying fee." The ministry's spokesman says that they have "full evidence to support this case" and denied that Mr Ching’s detention was related to Zhao Ziyang (Times Online, May 31).
The spokesman also said that Ching is being treated like a "Chinese national," which is not fun--because the penalty for spying is either life imprisonment or death, according to one lawyer based in Shanghai (Bloomberg, May 31).
Translated (from Chinese) from a report by Chen Su of New Century Net (May 30):
In the Amnesty International Report 2005: The State of the World's Human Rights released last week, China is criticised as continuing to use provisions of the Criminal Law relating to 'subversion', 'state secrets' and other vaguely defined national security offences to prosecute activists, lawyers, journalists, and others.More quotes from Brossel on VOA (May 31):
According to Gao Wenqian 高文谦, author of Zhou Enlai in his later years 《晚年周恩来》, the "crime" of "divulging state secrets" is fully manipulated by the government. This is not a crime with a legal basis behind it, but a political crime...
The head of Reporters sans frontières's Asia-Pacific desk Vincent Brossel believes that China's detaining of Ching Cheong is meant to apply pressure on the Hong Kong media [lit: killing a chicken for the monkeys to watch], to make them understand that even though Hong Kong enjoys freedom of the press, the Chinese government does not want Hong Kong journalist to be actively pushing for freedom of the press, and will not allow Hong Kong to become a base for broadcasting information or democratic ideas into China.
The press freedom advocacy group Reporters Without Borders in Paris has called on foreign governments to pressure China to release Mr. Ching. Vincent Brossel, head of the group's Asia-Pacific desk, says there is no evidence to date that Mr. Ching might have been tortured. However, he says the group questions the means by which the government might have obtained a confession.The editor-in-chief of Singapore Press Holdings' English and Malay Newspaper Division, Mr Cheong Yip Seng was interviewd by BBC's Julian Marshall over on Mr Ching Cheong's arrest and the spying charge (ST, June 1). This bit caught my eye:
"When you detain someone for a month and you put pressure on his family, you put a lot of pressure on him, it's obvious you can get some confession," said Mr. Brossel. "I don't know exactly what is the content of his confession. We just hope that the lawyer will get access to him, and also that his trial will be fair."
BBC: According to the Chinese authorities, he was in Guangzhou where he travelled to collect secret papers linked to the former Chinese leader, Zhao Ziyang.Elsewhere, the Committee for Protection of Journalists has a report (May 31).
Cheong: I have absolutely no idea that this had happened. As I said, this came as a complete surprise to us.
BBC: You don't think this is connected in any way with the editorial line that maybe your newspaper takes on China?
Cheong: I do not believe that to be the case. In fact, our editorial line on China can give no cause for action of this kind.
Paraphrasing from New Century Net, "The Political Message of Ching Cheong's Arrest" (May 31), by Feng Liang of Asiatimes (Chinese edition): Analysts believe that Ching Cheong's arrest probably has something to do with his privately collecting historical material relating to the Tiananmen incident over many years. But the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China decided during it's 16th Plenary Session that there will not be any reevaluation of the Tiananmen incident. But Ching Cheong's collation of historical material may prove that during the incident, the leaders of the Communist Party, and Deng Xiaoping in particular, made mistakes. It thus stand to reason that the Chinese authorities would be deeply troubled by the fact that a senior journalist of his experience should be active within the PRC and even acquired material relating to the Tiananmen incident from a number of Party cadres. Furthermore, because China is presently emphasising the rule of law, but there is no law forbidding individuals using lawful means to acquire historical material, the authorities decided to bring charges of "spying" against Ching Cheong instead. In fact, Ching Cheong's work with the Straits Times and his receiving renumeration has been seen by some officials as "receiving large fees from a foreign intelligency agency". As they say: if you really want to attribute some crime to a person, there will be no lack of things to say (欲加之罪，何患无词), and such is apparently the highest law of corrupt officials everywhere. Still, Ching Cheong will probably not receive the highest possible penalty for spying; but in order to stop his information gathering activities and to make clear the Chinese government's stance that there will not be any reevaluation of the Tiananmen incident, he will most certainly face criminal charges. [End paraphrase]
Nicholas Becquelin, research director for Human Rights in China's Hong Kong office, said "ethnic Chinese reporters and researchers are much more vulnerable than their western counterparts when it comes to doing their jobs on the mainland". From the South China Morning Post (June 1, via Asia Media):
"Persecuting a foreign journalist can bring bad publicity to the Chinese government. So they target ethnic Chinese ... to send a chilling effect to the media," he said. "Foreign reporters are at most detained or expelled; with the mainland press - regardless of whether they're working for a foreign agency or not - authorities may persecute them to the full extent of the law if there is anything they don't like."The latest: a Taiwan connection? From the HK Standard (June 2):
A senior Taiwanese official in charge of mainland affairs on Wednesday categorically dismissed allegations that Hong Kong-based journalist Ching Cheong is a spy for Taiwan.This has indeed become crazier than I earlier thought. As this article points out, Ching Cheong is hardly a Taiwan supporter or even some "die-hard opponent of the Beijing leadership":
"It is ridiculous to say that the so-called 'overseas' [organization] has anything to do with Taiwan," said Michael You, vice chairman of Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council, in a telephone interview. He said he only knew of the incident "through newspaper reports."
Beijing Tuesday said Ching, a senior corespondent for the Singapore Straits Times, was a spy who had confessed to having been hired by "overseas" intelligence organizations.
The one-sided accusation - made even before he is officially charged and with Ching being held incommunicado - has deepened the controversy. Beijing's use of the word "overseas" appears to single out Taiwan.
Ching's wife, Mary Lau, said in an RTHK program Wednesday that she believed Beijing was referring to Taiwan by using the term "overseas" instead of "foreign."
...he spent much of his career inside the Communist system. Mr. Ching worked as a reporter for Wen Wei Po, a Communist-controlled newspaper in Hong Kong, only quitting in disgust after the Tiananmen massacre. Even now he remains an ardent advocate of Taiwan's reunification with China, and has been known to side with Beijing in opposing U.S. involvement in cross-Strait issues.update: (June 2 0315 -0400)
Apart from the Zhao Ziyang interviews manuscripts, and the Taiwan connection, I've come across two other speculations concerning the reason behind Ching Cheong's arrest via New Century Net. Both are rather...speculative. But for all it's worth...
First, Li Yi (李怡) thinks that it was an article that Ching Cheong published in Mingbao under the pseudonym of Zhong Guoren (锺国仁) about two accords China signed with Russia concerning a border dispute. The article revealed many details of the Chinese-Russian accord that has been under wraps all this while, and laments the fact that it basically recognized Russian control over some 100+ km square of Chinese territory. (The history of the territory involved--some 437 km square, of which 337 is returned by Russia--is complicated. Some was last during Czarist times, but there was also a part that was taken by the Soviet Union in 1929.) Ching Cheong, with his extensive connections in China, including in the ranks of the Communist Party, could plausibly come by such information. But the long and short of it is that, on Li Yi's account, the Chinese government may be referring to this publication when they talked about Ching Cheong "divulging state secrets".
Second, Ling Feng (凌锋), writing in the Taiwan Daily (台湾日报, June 2) says that there may be a Falungong connection. On Apr 21, the eve of Ching Cheong's arrest, the Falungong connected Epoch Times published a nine point criticism of the Communist Party and called for party members to resign from party membership, a call which lead to (supposedly) more than a million respondants (as of now, the website says that more than two million has responded to their call). Now it turns out that Falungong's point man in Hong Kong Jian Hongzhang (简鸿章) was a former colleague of Ching Cheong both at WWP and later at the Contemporary (see under "background" above in this post). And there are also other former colleages in the upper echelons of editorial team at Epoch Times. The arrest of Ching Cheong may be part of the Chinese government's attempt to collect information about the Falungong. Furthermore, it is speculated that the Chinese authorities believe that the "nine criticisms" could only have been written by someone who came from within the system and thus could have Ching Cheong as one of their suspects.
As I said, all very speculative.
update: (June 2 1305 -0400)
A glance at the major press reactions throughout the world in ST (June 1), "CHINA: Major papers voice concern about detention--East Asian and American papers follow up on Washington Post story", by Ong Hwee Hwee (reproduced on Asia Pacific Media Network).
Many of Ching Cheong's friends, old time classmates, former colleagues (with Wen Wei Po and Contemporary) are also mobilising to come to his aid (from Ming Pao Daily News June 2, via New Century Net; in Chinese, I'll translate some of it later).
In related news, China has accused research Zhao Yan of fraud so as to detain him longer, while a sociologist and an official at China's top government think-tank have been detained on suspicion of leaking state secrets. With the June 4 anniversay coming up, it's pretty much open season.
update: (June 3 1925 -0400)
From ST (June 4), "HK police issue detention notice for ST reporter--It seals the fact that Ching Cheong has been placed under house surveillance", by Vince Chong, Hong Kong Correspondent:
HONG KONG police yesterday handed a notice of detention to the wife of Straits Times senior correspondent Ching Cheong, formally sealing the fact that he has been placed under house surveillance by China's state security...Elsewhere, the Chinese (PRC) media finally takes notice. From ST (June 4), "Chinese media finally breaks silence on arrest", by Chua Chin Hon, China Bureau Chief:
The document handed to Ms Mary Lau yesterday falls under the notification system, which states that the mainland and Hong Kong authorities are supposed to alert each other if residents are detained in each other's jurisdictions. This is so that families of the detainees can be kept updated.
Lawmaker James To, who chairs the legislative council's security panel, said the notification paves the way for Mr Ching's family to meet him. 'It is a clearer sign that his family can now ask for meetings, or to pass him medication or pills he may need, or other creature comforts,' he told The Straits Times.
The latest development came a day after Ms Lau stunned Hong Kong media by sending a public letter to Chinese President Hu Jintao...
BEIJING - MAINLAND Chinese media broke their silence on the case involving detained Straits Times foreign correspondent Ching Cheong late on Thursday, after keeping quiet on the issue for days. The media appeared to have taken the cue from the Chinese Foreign Ministry, which posted comments on Mr Ching's case on its website for the first time on Thursday.More blogosphere coverage on Simon World and Singapore Ink. | Also at The Peking Duck, garota, Milton J. Madison and Dai Tou Laam. | Elia Diodati has a narrative with links.
Mr Ching, a Hong Konger and Straits Times' chief China correspondent, was arrested in Guangzhou on April 22.
A statement from the ministry earlier this week accused the writer of spying for a foreign intelligence agency in return for large sums of money, though it did not specify who his paymaster was or provide evidence.
The statement was faxed to foreign journalists in Beijing, but was not posted on the ministry's website. Questions about Mr Ching's case - such as whether he would be produced in an open court - were raised at a routine press conference on Tuesday. But these questions were completely left out of the official transcript of the press conference.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan was again asked about Mr Ching's case at a press conference on Thursday, but this time, in an apparent change of heart, the ministry posted excerpts of his comments on its website as part of an official transcript.
The transcript said: 'I have no additional information to provide on Ching Cheong's case, which you are interested in.
'The information I have currently is that: Hong Kong resident Ching Cheong has been instructed and requested by an external intelligence agency to engage in intelligence gathering activities in mainland China. As for your question that any other persons involved in the case, I have no knowledge of the situation. But I will stress that China will handle such issues according to the law.'
The semi-official China News Service and Internet portals like tom.com carried the Foreign Ministry's transcript verbatim, and did not provide details, such as Mr Ching's occupation.
Mass market dailies and tabloids, however, carried more information gleaned from Hong Kong newspapers. Major Chinese newspapers, key Communist Party dailies and the official Xinhua news agency continued to keep news of Mr Ching's detention out of their coverage.
The pro-Beijing Wen Wei Po yesterday reported that the issue was not one of censorship.
It was simply that the ministry had opted not to have the questions on Mr Ching in its official transcript, the report claimed.
The newspaper quoted Mr Kong as saying: 'Journalists who are familiar with the practices of the Foreign Ministry will understand that the ministry does not place all the questions and answers on its website.'