Grand Unification of Theories about the Case of Ching Cheong

Full details of this case can be found at Singapore Angles.  My interest is in summarzing the theories that have been offered so far, and then I will offer a way to unify them.  It is nothing surprising -- just the usual thing with China watching.

Theory 1:  The Zhao Ziyang connection

[Washington Post]  Hong Kong Reporter Being Held By China.  By Philip P. Pan.  May 31, 2005.

Security agents apprehended Ching Cheong, chief China correspondent for Singapore's Straits Times newspaper, on April 22 in the southern city of Guangzhou, where he was scheduled to meet a source who had promised to give him a copy of the politically sensitive manuscript, according to the journalist's wife, Mary Lau.

Lau said Chinese authorities warned her and the Straits Times not to disclose her husband's detention, and she stayed silent for weeks in the hope he would be released. She said she decided to go public last week after a mainland official told her privately that the government was preparing to charge him with "stealing core state secrets."


Ching's detention appears to be related to a high-priority government investigation aimed at preventing the publication of a series of secret interviews conducted over the past several years with Zhao Ziyang, the former premier and party chief who opposed the Tiananmen massacre and died in January after nearly 16 years under house arrest.

What Zhao said in those interviews is unknown, but months after his death, China's Communist leaders appear worried that his words might pose a threat to the party's grip on power by reviving memories of the Tiananmen Square massacre and triggering fresh demands for democratic reform.

The interviews were conducted by Zong Fengmin, a retired party official and longtime associate of Zhao's who managed to visit the fallen leader regularly while he was under house arrest.

Reached by telephone in Beijing, Zong confirmed the government had pressured him not to publish a book based on his conversations with Zhao. He said he had not finalized the manuscript and expressed surprise that Ching might have been detained for trying to obtain it. He denied ever meeting Ching in person.

Xiang Chuxin, Zong's publisher, said Chinese intelligence agents visited him at his apartment in Hong Kong in October and asked polite questions about Zong's memoir. But after Zhao's death on Jan. 17, police detained him in the southern city of Shenzhen and interrogated him for several hours in an attempt to discover who brought him the book, he said.

Police also placed one of Xiang's mainland employees, Huang Wei, under house arrest for several weeks. Reached by phone, she said she gave a copy of the memoir to Ching at Zong's request. She also said she sent text messages to Ching's cell phone pleading for help while trying to evade the authorities, but added the police never asked about him when questioning her.

Lau said her husband learned of Zong's second manuscript late last year and met with Zong's editor not long after Zhao's death. At the time, Zong's editor wanted to publish the manuscript but was worried security agents would intercept it if he attempted to use the same people who published Zong's memoir, she said. Ching then agreed to help bring the manuscript to Hong Kong, Lau said.

Lau said her husband told her a source attempted to e-mail the document to him several times without success. Then, in late April, he received a call from someone asking him to travel to Guangzhou to pick up the manuscript, she said.

Lau said Ching never disclosed the identity of the source to her and that she suspected Chinese security agents might have tricked him into traveling to the mainland. A day after he was detained, she said, he called her and arranged for his laptop computer to be brought to the mainland, too.

Security agents have allowed Ching to call her four more times, she said. In the latest call, on Sunday morning, Ching 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.

"He told me to work on his behalf in Hong Kong," Lau said. "He told me to visit his mother and father more."

This is a fairly weak story, because the main part does not make sense.  Forgetting about Ching Cheong, we can look at the Zong Fengmin's second manuscript.  If it is so important to prevent publication, then shouldn't this problem be plugged at the source, namely, Zong Fengmin.  Apparently, this man is still chatting on the telephone with the Washington Post and talking about his work-in-progress.  Is this man too powerful?  If the Chinese government can put a former chairman Zhao Ziyang under house arrest for sixteen years until he passed away, why would Zhao Ziyang's qigong master be untouchable?  It would have been easy to place him under house arrest or even toss him in jail.  The evidence so far is that the Chinese government does not seem to be overly concerned about any Zhao Ziyang manuscript.

For now, please note that the source of this theory is Mary Lau, the wife of Ching Cheong.  She will turn up later in theory #3.

Theory 2:  The second Sino-Russian territorial agreement

[Apple Daily via InMediaHK]  Patriotism and treason.  By Li Yi.  June 2, 2005.


[in translation]  On the evening before yesterday, there was a dinner with several veteran media workers.  There, someone mentioned that Ching Cheong used the penname of Zhong Guoren to write a column in the Hong Kong newspaper Ming Pao.  The column has not appeared for several weeks.  Prior to that, he disclosed many details from the Sino-Russian border agreement in that column, covering the related history and the net gains/losses for both nations.  It also revealed his despondency at how China agreed that Russia could keep more than one million square kilometers of land.  At the dinner, someone said that the kind of data as well as the sentiments about losing national land could not be written by just anybody in Hong Kong.  As they admired at how Ching Cheong was able to obtain the detailed information, they also believed that he must have some special channels for that information.

This author also wrote about the secret Sino-Russian agreement on the day before yesterday.  But this author's information came purely from the Internet.  Could the information from the Internet come from Ching Cheong's articles?  I don't know.  If true, then the national secrets that Ching Cheong leaked must be about that Sino-Russian border agreement.

During the Sino-Russian border negotiations, the agreement for the eastern section of the border was signed in 1991 and that for the western section was signed in 1994.  China has never disclosed the contents of these two agreements.

This is not a terribly convincing theory if only because the source was a dinner conversation among unidentified subjects, but at least those were informed media workers.  At this point, I will ask you to re-read the seemingly innocuous last paragraph in the above excerpt.  That turned out to be crucial to the grand unification theory of all the individual theories.

Theory 3:  The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences connection

This theory began with a seemingly unrelated report.

(Reuters)   China holds two for leaking secrets - sources.  BY Benjamin Kang Lim.  June 2, 2005.

A sociologist and an official at China's top government think-tank have been detained on suspicion of leaking state secrets, sources with knowledge of the case said on Thursday, the latest in a series of high-profile detentions.

Lu Jianhua, 45, a sociologist at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), was taken into custody by agents of the state security apparatus in April, said the sources who asked not to be identified.

Chen Hui, an assistant to the director of the CASS General Office, was detained around May, the sources said, adding that Chen had had access to classified documents.

It was not immediately clear if the two cases were linked or if the detentions had anything to do with Ching Cheong, a Hong Kong-based reporter for Singapore's Straits Times newspaper who has been in custody in China since April accused of spying. 

No sooner than this news came out that Ching Cheong's wife issued an open letter to Hu Jintao and distributed it to the local media in Hong Kong.  There is a summary of the letter in Reuters, but I have translated the full text below so you won't miss anything.  As I have always said, you should read the text and analyze what the text says, and don't let any pre-conceived notions or other people's interpretations interfere with that analysis.

[New Century Net]  

[in translation]  

To the respected General Secretary Hu Jintao:

How are you?

I heard the terrible news today from the Foreign Ministry that your worker and our good friend Lu Jianhua has been detained.

I beg to inform you that in recent years that under the arrangement of Lu Jianhua, Ching Cheong has been able to use his after-work hours to complete two major missions concerning the return of Hong Kong and the re-unification of China.  I am worried that I may not be able to send you a letter, and that is why I am using the open letter method.  I apologize.

For the longest time, Ching Cheong has supported the opening and reform of China, and he has helped everybody to do good work within his ability.  After the return of Hong Kong, there began various kinds of frictions for which the central government sent many researchers to study in Hong Kong, and Ching Cheong has always gladly helped them.

In Hong Kong, there is a 'leftist' and non-pragmatic approach to such work, and this has caused Hong Kong to remain in a state of instability for the seven years after the return of Hong  Kong.  Seeing this, the central government sent Lu Jianhua to compile an important report.  At the time, Ching Cheong arranged for Lu to meet various important people including (note: I helped to set up appointments with some of them): aul Yip Kwok-wah (the special advisor to former Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa), Anson Chan (the former Chief Secretary), Elsie Leung (the current Secretary of Justice); democrats including Margaret Ng (Article 45 Concern Group), minister Chu Yiu-ming (Christian leader), Christine Loh (founder to civic think thank Civic Exchange), Yeung Sum (chairman of the Democratic Party); academic scholars including Cheung Shun-kong (City University president), Ng Ching-fei (Baptist University president), many Hong Kong University alumni and student representatives and others.

According to Lu Jianhua, most reports that reached the central government have the words of the interviewees re-written so as to fit what the authors believe the central government leaders can accept, and thus the original meaning is distorted and the central government can no longer discern the true will.  He used Margaret Ng of the Article 45 Concern Group as an example.  From Lu's report, it was the first time that the central government ever understood what her views are because he wrote down her original words without amendment.  According to information, this report received a high rating from the relevant central government leaders, and it is one of the most esteemed reports about the situation in Hong Kong.

Due to the huge amounts of research and thinking done by Lu Jianhua and his colleagues, the central government decided to approach the problem of administering Hong Kong with a pragmatic spirit and in the end decided that they could use the former British colonial government official Donald Tsang.  This is an important result of the efforts of Lu Jianhua and Ching Cheong out of their love for China and Hong Kong.

As for the re-unification of China problem, Lu Jianhua has often asked Ching Cheong for recommendations, and Ching Cheong was quite glad to do so.  One of those recommendations from us proposed that if the DPP should be elected again, then China should initiate communication with the pan-blue opposition Nationalist and People First Parties.  At the time, Chen Shui-bian got shot and then got elected, and the situation was tense on Taiwan island, as if they were going to break away immediately.  Lu Jianhua was very nervous and wanted Ching Cheong to offer recommendations immediately.  Since Ching Cheong was very busy with his journalistic work, I ended up writing the document after collecting both of our ideas.  Therefore, I am very aware of what was written.  It should be said that the development in the Straits now was based upon Ching Cheong's recommendations, or at least he was one of the recommenders.

In the following, there are some selections from the original recommendation.  I believe the central government leaders have adopted some of them.  They have hosted the Nationalist and People First Parties and let them have a significant impact on the re-unification process.

- Invite Lien Chan and James Soong to come over, either together or separately to bring China's wishes back to Taiwan.  Then arrange for Frank Hsieh, Chen Shui-bian or even Lee Teng-hui to come and visit.

- In terms of timing, the order should be the Nationalists, the People First Party and the New Party first because they are basically in agreement with re-unification and therefore should be acknowledged and praised.  China should give them a great welcome.  From the DPP, Frank Hsieh should be the first to be invited because he is the first one to indicate a wish to visit among the DPP senior members but he was stopped by Chen Shui-bian the last time.  Besides, Frank Hsieh has better trust among the people, and he is likely to become the DPP's next presidential candidate and then Taiwan's next president.

- Chen Shui-bian became a "president by cheating" and his trustworthiness and reputation are bankrupt.  Besides, this man changes his position over and over again, and any agreement on Chinese re-unification should not be signed with him but should wait for the next president instead.  Other recommendations include inviting Lee Teng-hui to become China's agricultural advisor, etc.

The above report was turned over to Lu Jianhua, and he might have included other recommendations when he handed his report in.  No matter what, I personally believe that Lu Jianhua and Ching Cheong have made important contributions on the China re-unification issue.

In order to have better communication and to obtain more ideas from Ching Cheong about the return of Hong Kong and the reunification of China, Lu Jianhua would often forward the speeches of the leaders, including yourself and other leaders, to Ching Cheong.  This should be considered as necessary for work, as opposed to leaking secrets.  Right now, the national security bureau has found your internal speeches on Ching Cheong's computer.  They have therefore considered that Lu Jianhua "leaked national secrets" while Ching Cheong "stole national secrets."  It is wrong to accuse them of such crimes, given their previous contributions to the country.  I hope you will pay attention.  For the convenience of work, Lu Jianhua usually goes around with the title "Chinese Academy of Social Sciences researcher".  When has he been a reporter before?  Which media was he a reporter for?  Why would the Foreign Ministry lie in front of the world?

Sir, I hope you understand that whatever Ching Cheong and Lu Jianhua did, they were standing firmly on the side of Chinese people. Their starting point was to serve the fundamental interests of China.  Please support those who work around you and have contributed significantly to the country, and don't let others send them to prison so easily.

Mary Lau
June 2, 2005

Please note that Theory #1 came from Mary Lau on May 30 and referred to the Zhao Ziyang manuscript.  At that time, Mary Lau was fully aware of the Lu Jianhua connection and the presence of the internal speeches of the party leaders inside her husband's computer but she preferred to conceal those facts.  But when the news came out that Lu Jianhua has also been detained, Mary Lau came out with Theory #3 as quickly as possible with an open letter for the world to see.  Only history will tell whether she made a tactical mistake by suggesting Theory #1 first, apparently in an attempt to shield Lu Jianhua.  If at first she wanted to misdirect attention, she now looks deceptive.  Does she have anything else that she is not telling?

More generally (see InMediaHK), this open letter is said to serve three purposes: first, to inform Hu Jintao that the detainees have made significant contributions to China and should not be thrown away by those who work to hide things away from their superiors; second, to tell people (Hu Jintao as well as others) that patriots do not deserve such treatments; third, to tell all those Hong Kong luminaries with whom Ching Cheong had contacted many times before to help him.

Will this help Ching Cheong?  Step back and think about what this letter is saying.  The two biggest initiatives made by China this year -- the Lien Chan-James Soong visits and the replacement of the Hong Kong Chief Executive -- are supposed to be credited to Ching Cheong and his wife.  What do those tens of thousands of people in the State Council and related organizations (such as the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences) do for a living?  You are asking Hu Jintao to admit that the greatest successes of the country were due to the work of two Hong Kong-based journalists, of which Ching Cheong did not even have time from his work for the Strait Times to write the report.  This may be completely true, but I sure don't hope that this is how China is run these days.  For this reason, it is now impossible for Hu Jintao to acknowlege this open letter.

If Mary Lau wrote this letter on her own, she is "very simple, even na´ve' in the words of Jiang Zemin.  If someone advised her to do so, it was a huge disservice.

The Grand Unification Theory of the Ching Cheong Case

How to reconcile these three theories?  The answer is: THE USUAL.  In this previous post, The Masters of History, the point was made that every mass event or public event in the history of the Chinese Communists is about factional struggle (e.g. the Anti-Rightist Movement, the One Hundred Flowers Bloom campaign, the Great Leap Forward, the Three Red Flags, the Cultural Revolution, the anti-Lin/anti-Confucius campaign, the 1989 student democracy movement, and even the 2005 anti-Japanese demonstrations).  In the light of this theory, how then shall we look at the Ching Cheong case so far?

This is not too hard, and it was already done by someone nicknamed "Big Head Boy" at InMediaHK.  He had identified those three theories above: the Zhao Ziyang manuscript; the Sino-Russian pact (or, more generally, unfavorable reporting by Ching Cheong on Chinese leaders); and the Lu Jianhua connection.  Here is his summary paragraph:

Combining the analyses for all three theories, this author believes that is possible to get a clue by placing the case of Ching Cheong in the general background of struggles among different political factions in mainland China. 

In his Hong Kong work, Ching Cheong recommended "support Tsang and remove Tung"; in his work on the re-unification of China, he recommended going from a "hard line" to a "soft line."  Both recommendations were successfully adopted, thus striking a serious blow to the Jiang Zemin/Shanghai gang faction (which chose Tung and worked a "hard line" against Taiwan).

In writing about the Sino-Russian border agreement, he also damaged the Shanghai faction (explanation: Remember that those agreements were signed in 1991 and 1994 under Jiang Zemin, and Ching Cheong's information was used extensively by F*L*G publications to attack Jiang for selling out China's interests).

Ching Cheong was not arrested in Beijing, which is the powerbase of the Hu Jintao faction.  Instead, he was arrested in Guangzhou.  Do you know who is on the Guangzhou provincial committee?  Ching Cheong may just be a sacrificial victim in a factional struggle in which the losing faction took revenge and placed the winning faction in public disgrace.

This theory is unverifiable and unfalsifiable from the information so far.

(Addendum: Washington Post)  Reporter In China Charged As Spy.  By Philip P. Pan.  August 6, 2005.

About the same time, the authorities detained two scholars at a government research organization, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences: Lu Jianhua, a well-known sociologist who is a longtime friend of Ching, and Chen Hui, an influential official in the academy's administration.  Lu, 45, was considered a rising star in political and academic circles and appeared regularly on state television as a commentator. In recent years, he was working to develop a relationship with the office of President Hu and sometimes presented himself as an informal adviser with ties to the president.

A colleague of Lu and Chen, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the men also enjoyed good relations with officials in the government's intelligence apparatus. He said it was extremely unusual for the authorities to detain such well-connected individuals, suggesting that the investigation was a politically motivated attempt by Hu's rivals to embarrass the president.  The colleague said Lu made enemies by advocating more moderate policies toward Hong Kong and Taiwan. Lu also provided Hu's office with independent assessments of the politics of both territories that sometimes contradicted reports provided by the government's traditional policymaking bureaucracy, the colleague said.

The exact nature of the charges against the two scholars remained uncertain, but the colleague said that Chen was suspected of providing Lu with such classified material as copies of Hu's internal speeches, and that Lu was suspected of sharing the material with Ching.  Reached by phone, Lu's wife, Qu Liqiu, confirmed that her husband had been detained and said she was very concerned. She declined to comment further. Chen's family could not be reached for comment.

(Addendum) (SCMP)  Wife of detained journalist admits he was careless.  By Patsy Moy.  June 12, 2005.

The wife of Ching Cheong, the Hong Kong-based journalist detained on the mainland, has admitted he was careless to travel across the border during a politically sensitive time.  Mary Lau Man-yee said: "It was out of carelessness. For example, many of our friends who are in a very sensitive position have cancelled their trips to the mainland because they knew the political situation was very tense - which was before and after the death of Zhao Ziyang [former general secretary of the Communist Party].

"However, Ching Cheong had been travelling back and forth between the mainland and Hong Kong so often that he did not think of the risk. It was out of carelessness in terms of both his visit to the mainland and his plan to obtain the manuscript of Zhao Ziyang."

Ching, a journalist with Singapore's Straits Times, was arrested on April 22 and charged with spying.

"It was in fact very dangerous for him to keep making connections to obtain the manuscript. However, we were not aware of the sensitive nature of the manuscript as we believed that it is only part of history," Ching's wife said. 


"Whether the information is seen as confidential is very subjective," she said.  "Journalists like Ching Cheong are handling this kind of information every day. He is a very senior journalist and good researcher who can make a judgment and write his analysis based on a lot of material. But I strongly believe that he would not leak information, or no one would tell him anything in future." 

(Sing Tao via Yahoo! News)

[translation]  Mary Lau said that Ching Cheong is ordinarily very careful.  His arrest this time was due to carelessness about the complexity and danger related with the Zong Fengmin manuscript.  "Usually, people who drown are those who know how to swim.  Actually, after Zong Fengmin published his first Zhao Ziyang manuscript, the central government sent more than 100 policemen to investigate how the manuscript got leaked outside."

She also said that Ching's computer contained a lot of internal speeches by Chinese leaders.  Apart from the earlier disclosed internal speeches by Chairman Hu Jintao, there were also internal speeches by Liao Chengzhi on Hong Kong policies as well as internal speeches by Zhao Ziyang and Jiang Zemin.  "Ching Cheong is not a scoop writer.  He would not write any article that interferes with China, and he would not leak sensitive information to the outside."

As for the information that suggests that Ching Cheong was arrested because he reviewed the "bottom line of the China position with respect to Taiwan" and the "Sino-Russian border agreement," Mary Lau said that the Taiwan assertion is speculative and has not supporting basis.  Ching Cheong had also written about the Sino-Russian border agreement for the Strait Times in the last year or so.  But Mary Lau emphasized that she does not want to speculate on why Ching Cheong has been detained.

Mary Lau also made clarification about the open letter to Communist Party General Secretary Hu Jintao: "Ching Cheong was not hired by the central government.  He was only helping out as a friend.  Many people in Hong Kong support China and they exchange ideas with the think tank people sent down by the central government.  These types of activities are especially important while Hong Kong is electing a new Chief Executive."  She hopes that those activities are not national secrets.  As for whether the open letter will have "bad consequences in spite of the good intentions," Mary Lau said that she was hoping to gain attention and that most of her friends supported her. 

Here is the summary of the chronology of events.  

As much as the world would like to help out, these rapidly switching scripts are quite confusing.

(World Weekly via New Century Net)  I Love My Country, But Does My Country Love Me?  The Mystery of the Case of Ching Cheong.  By Zeng Huiyan.  June 21, 2005.

This is a very long article, and many of the points have already been covered above.  I will not translate the whole article, so I will give a summary with details on the newer points.

There are presently seven theories about why Ching Cheong was arrested:

(1) Ching Cheong wanted to obtain the Zong Fengmin's manuscript on Zhao Ziyang.  This was Mary Lau's original version, but Zong Fengmin says that he is totally unaware that Ching was trying to obtain a manuscript that has not been completed yet.

(2) Ching Cheong wanted to assist the Chinese leadership on understanding Hong Kong and Taiwan issues and ended up having the internal speeches of the leaders on his laptop computer.  This was Mary Lau's second version as described in an open letter addressed to Chinese President Hu Jintao.  This was a stunning claim, especially to media workers.  When veteran Hong Kong reporter Mao Mengjin originally heard that Ching Cheong was arrested, she wrote to support him.  But when Mary Lau's letter was published, "she felt that some misgivings about how complex the matter has become."  In Mao Mengjin's belief, media journalists are the independent fourth power of society to check against the executive, legislative and judicial branches.  That is, media journalists present the voice of the people, and not the voice of the government.  Mao Mengjin pointed out that based upon Mary Lau's explanation, Ching Cheong has taken on the role of 'liaison' or 'advisor' for Hu Jintao.  "This is obviously in conflict with his regular position as a journalist."  When a foreign reporter heard this news, the immediate question was: "Was Ching Cheong a journalist or what?"  Mao Mengjin said that while it is a myth to expect journalists to be completely neutral, "it still looks inappropriate to perform work for the government." 

(3) The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson claimed that Ching Cheong was collecting intelligence in return for large amount of money.  It is noted that the original reference was to 'foreign countries' but that was later amended to 'outside the borders.'  This is usually taken to mean Taiwan, which is never considered a separate country, but is nevertheless outside the borders of the country right now.  The Foreign Ministry seemed to have backed away from this claim, and removed the remarks from its web site.

(4) Ching Cheong wrote under the penname Zhongguoren in Hong Kong newspaper Ming Pao on the Sino-Russian border agreement, which can be construed as a national secret.  This is the version offered by political commentator Li Yi in Ming Pao.

(5) The Chinese government suspects that Ching Cheong was the author of the F*L*G's Nine Criticisms of the Chinese Communist Party, and arrested him to obtain more intelligence on the F*L*G.  This is the version offered by New York City-based political commentator Ling Feng.  Ching Cheong was arrested on April 22, the day when fully one million Chinese Communist Party members resigned.  Ling Feng pointed out that the F*L*G organizer in Hong Kong is Kan Hung-cheung, who was a former colleague of Ching Cheong at the newspaper Wen Wei Po and they both left there to found a magazine.  Ling Feng said that the Nine Criticisms dealt a severe blow to the Chinese Communist Party who went looking for the author who is assumed to be knowledgeable about the Chinese communist system.  Ching Cheong was therefore a prime suspect.  This theory is rightly suspected to be F*L*G wanting a place on the grandstand.

(6) Ching Cheong was the victim of an internal political struggle between factions of the Chinese Communist Party.  This is the version offered by Hong Kong scholar Choi Tse-keung.  It is asserted that Ching Cheong was considered to be aligned with the Hu Jintao section and therefore became the target of another faction . The history of the Chinese Communist Party says that every time that someone with close ties to a party leader is attacked, it is the signal of an internal fight.

(7) Ching Cheong was suspected of having ties with the Taiwan intelligence apparatus.  This is the version by Hong Kong's East Week magazine.  See Eastweek on Ching Cheong.  If Ching Cheong was also being paid by the Taiwan government, then this would mesh in with (3) above.

There have also been numerous testaments from Ching Cheong's acquaintences.  The universal opinion is that it is inconceivable that this person could be selling Chinese national secrets for money.  That would be completely inconsistent with his beliefs and behavior, according to people from all walks of life who have known him over more than 30 years.  When a person feels more comfortable wearing the same shirt every day, what does he need a pile of money for?