Eastweek on Ching Cheong

In the case of Ching Cheong, this previous post Grand Unification of Theories about the case of Ching Cheong covers the major existing theories about why he was arrested.  In this week's Eastweek magazine (Hong Kong), there is some additional pieces of information.  You should bear in the mind that this magazine does not have the greatest reputation in the world for accuracy and that the sources are only identified as "people who are informed about China."  So you need to take it with a huge grain of salt.  In fact, this new piece of information is so obvious that it is probably ... too obvious.  That is to say, if I have to round out the story, this is what I would say but then I don't know any of those "people who are informed about China."

In the following, I have made a translation of the article.  Eastweek does not have a website, but this article is paraphrased by the Chinese-language newspaper Sing Tao.

The Beijing Foreign Ministry spokesperson announced that Singagore's Strait Times' Chief Correspondent Ching Cheong is suspected of working for an outside intelligence service and has received a large amount of financial compensation.  Then Ching Cheong's wife Mary Lau published an open letter to Hu Jintao, revealing that Ching had "worked" for senior Beijing officials.  This has made the case more sensitive.

From informed sources in mainland China, this magazine has learned that the case of Ching Cheong is completely unrelated to Hong Kong.  Rather, it involves some important secrets about the political relationship between Beijing and Taiwan, especially about Hu Jintao's negotiation strategies and bottom lines with respect to Chen Bian-shui on the eve of the visits by Lien Chan and James Soong.

The fact the the Foreign Ministry spokesperson even made the clarification is a rare occasion in the history of Chinese politics, and therefore indicates the significance of this case.  According to reports, the case also involves Hu Jintao's think thank Chinese Academy of Social Sciences workers Lu Jianhua and Chen Hui and this makes it even more significant.

Based upon a source who knew the origin of the case, the Ching Cheong case has nothing to do with Hong Kong, but involves the struggle between Beijing and the Chen Shui-bian government last month.  The source said: "In matters about Hong Kong under 'One Country, Two Systems,' there are only 'situations' and there is no such thing as 'intelligence.'"

The source also said that Ching Cheong has relationships with many mainland departments, and he was willing to do things on their behalf, especially about helping them to understand Hong Kong and Taiwan.  According to Mary Lau, Ching had recommended to Beijing to invite Lien Chan and James Soong to visit and this was what Mary Lau wrote in her open letter.

But the source pointed out that the open letter did not reveal (and this is something that even Mary Lau is unaware of) that the related Chinese department had information that during the process of contacting people in Taiwan, Ching Cheong had established a direct relationship with the Taiwan intelligence bureau.  During that process, Ching used his own connections and channels on the mainland to let the Taiwan department obtain information about the Chinese political leadership.

This occurred just before Lien Chan and James Soong visited the mainland.  The Taiwan intelligence department needed urgently to find out what was on the minds of the Chinese leaders when Lien and Soong visit.

Lu Jianhua is a favorite in Hu Jintao's think thank.  This is something that is well-known in the Beijing political sphere.  Lu was especially willing to give his opinions to the outside world, and that is his special thing.  According to a colleague of Lu at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences: "Our entire academy of social sciences is a think tank for the central government.  Certain people even put themselves inside Hu's office.  So it was inescapble that something should go wrong!"  Lu Jianhua could indeed directly and completely understand the thoughts and data of Hu Jintao, and he may also have obtained the speeches and documents of Hu Jintao.

According to information, Lu Jianhua has told the outside world about how the central government was going to retire Tung Chee-hwa and support Donald Tsang in his place in Hong Kong.  At the time, Lu said something like: Hu Jintao has some new ideas about how to govern Hong Kong.  In Hong Kong, there must be a true capitalism and the Communists really don't understand how to manage capitalism.  Therefore, it was time for new ideas.

Under the similar circumstances, Lu also understood Hu Jintao and the central government in terms of the whole strategic plan and bottom line positions with respect to Taiwan.

On the eve of the Lien/Soong visits, Beijing accidentally learned that Taiwan had obtained top secrets concerning the latest strategic information of how Hu Jintao planned to negotiate.  So the Chinese intelligence service looked for the source of those secrets and found that they came from Ching Cheong.  By tracking down those who were connected to Ching, which included Lu Jianhua, they uncovered the case.

The other person involved in the case was Chen Hui, who was an assistant office director at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and he was responsible for managing the secret files.

According to sources who are familiar with operating procedures on the mainland, the national security bureau usually has three ways of handling such cases: "One, they could investigate the case.  They would identify the suspects and then follow them over the long term to collect evidence.  Then they make the arrests and interrogate the suspects, and then the case is solved.  Two, the intelligence leads them directly to solve the case.  Even if there was no sign at first, if you have the means to find out that the other side has your information, you can work backwards and find the source of that information on your side.  And then you will have solved the case.  Three, there are timing issues, as when a case has caused immediate damage and must be closed down as quickly as possible in order to prevent more damage."

The source said, "The Ching Cheong case involves both intelligence leads and timing effects.  Since someone in Beijing had asked Ching Cheong to help them on work about Taiwan and Hong Kong, the intelligence service could not afford to wait around for a long-term investigation."  Since Lien and Soong were going to visit immediately, there was an element of urgency.  Thus, the national security bureau had to take action to detain Ching Cheong and Lu Jianhua immediately in order to avoid more damage or disrupt the negotiation during these visits.

As for the Foreign Ministry spokesperson originally pointing out that the case was about "espionage," the Chinese national security bureau has a precise set of standards for defining "spies."

According to a person familiar with Chinese procedures, these standards include:  First, the subject knows that the other side is an intelligence service.  If the subject thinks that the other side is an academic or cultural organization and does not realize the true background, then the Chinese intelligence service would not act rashly.  They would rather make long-term observations to establish that the subject indeed has a relationship with the other side's intelligence service.  Second, the subject must have received compensation from the other side, or else it is hard to decide whether this behavior was for a benefit, especially when the espionage does not involve secret information.  Third, the subject may have actually joined the other side's organization.  Fourth, the subject's beahvior has caused damage to China."

The source said that there was no reason for the national security bureau to investigate Lu Jianhua, who was a member of Hu Jintao's think tank, without cause.  But certain secret information surfaced in Taiwan and there was clear evidence about where the information had come from, the intelligence service had to take action.

For Lu Jianhua, if this was what happened, then he most likely gave the information to Ching Cheong but he really had no idea how that information was forwarded to the intelligence service on the other side.  Still, this was leaking national secrets and he was dragged into this by Ching Cheong.


Our understanding is that Beijing intends to handle this matter in a low-keyed manner.  But since the outside world expressed many misunderstandings and speculations, Beijing does not preclude the possibility of disclosing the details of the case publicly.  The information is that the case will enter into the legal phase in June, as the national security bureau has basically finished the gathering of information and will forward the case to the prosecutor's office.

So much about this case remains unclear to me.  For example, what does it mean for the Chinese intelligence service to think that information has been leaked to Taiwan?  It does not have to mean that their own spy saw someone in Taiwan with a complete text of Hu Jintao's internal speech.  It could be as simple as someone in Taiwan invoking the term "two shores, one China" before Hu Jintao unveiled it to the world, and Ching Cheong had tried to run it by someone from Taiwan for feedback.  Who knows?

Finally, I have a hypothetical question for the reader:

Every time that one hears that China has detained a reporter, it is reflexive to demand his/her immediate release in the name of freedom of press.  But is freedom of press so absolute that someone with a press pass can pass any national secret information of any country (China or United States) onto the outside with total immunity? 

Specifically in this case, (without even deciding whether this is true or not) can Ching Cheong just pass on Hu Jintao's strategies and negotiation bottom lines to Taiwan with total immunity because he also happens to write for the Strait Times?

(Reuters)  China formally arrests reporter.  August 5, 2005.

China formally arrested Hong Kong journalist Ching Cheong on Friday on a charge of spying for rival Taiwan, the official Xinhua news agency said, the first such case since the former British colony reverted to Chinese rule in 1997.

Beijing public prosecutors approved Ching's arrest by the Chinese capital's State Security Bureau, Xinhua said, an indication that the 55-year-old China chief correspondent for Singapore's The Straits Times newspaper could be indicted soon.

The state news agency quoted unidentified sources as saying Ching confessed to spying for Taiwan during interrogation.  It said Ching received millions of Hong Kong dollars from Taiwan's intelligence apparatus and used the money to buy unspecified information on China's political, economic and military affairs between 2000 and 2005.  Ching passed on classified documents, some of them labeled "top secret" or "confidential," to Taiwan's National Security Bureau, which gave him the alias Chen Yuan-chun, the agency said.

His spy activities were "detrimental to national security," Xinhua said. It did not say when the trial would start.  If charged and convicted, Ching could face the death penalty. In China, detainees are almost always indicted after they are formally arrested.