Reading Ching Cheong

In South China Morning Post on August 14, 2005, Norma Connolly provided a five-minute primer which included the following Q&A:

Q: What was he doing in Guangzhou?

A: The 55-year-old Hong Kong resident had been working on a story about late Communist Party leader Zhao Ziyang , and had been trying to obtain recordings and transcripts of secret interviews the former prime minister had given. Zhao died in January while under house arrest for negotiating with Tiananmen demonstrators in 1989.

Meanwhile, Stephen Vines wrote in an opinion column in The Standard on August 19, 2005.

The precise reasons for Ching's arrest remain unclear, but it is widely believed that they are connected with his collection of materials concerning the deposed Communist Party leader Zhao Ziyang.  No one pretends that the documents in question are not politically sensitive, but there is quite a leap to be made from there to the accusations of espionage.

Let us grant that the case of Ching Cheong is particularly difficult, since one-side has asymmetrical control of all the information (see One-Sided Asymmetrical Information Warfare).  It is one thing if Ching Cheong had fallen into a total black hole like the New York Times researcher Zhao Yan.  But in the case of Ching Cheong, there is no lack of information.  In fact, all sorts of theories and information are surfacing (see Grand Unification of Theories about the Case of Ching Cheong), and it is increasingly clear that many of these assertions and allegations are patently false or unverified.  Although I have always advocated reading a text tightly and not injecting personal opinions, this is apparently hopeless since there are so many false texts.  So let us just stick to those texts that come from sources that are credible (in other words, let us not consider Xinhua, East Week, Oriental Daily and so on).

There is presently one source who should have first-hand knowledge, and that would be Mary Lau, the wife of Ching Cheong.  And it is unlikely that Mary Lau would lie in order to get Ching Cheong into deeper trouble.  So let us follow what she said:

[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.  ...

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.

This is the story that is followed in the two excerpts from the Hong Kong newspapers on the top of the page.  By this time, though, this story has been broken down in many ways already.

The first source does not directly refute this story directly, but he certainly guarantees that this story cannot be taken at face value.

[Washington Post]  The [Zhao Ziyang] 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.

Thus, the author Zong Fengmin himself is saying that there is no second Zhao Ziyang manuscript as yet at this time.  So how did Ching Cheong come to believe that such a manuscript might exist?

[Washington Post]  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.

So if you accept all this, then what is the role of Zong's editor?  He had certainly told Ching Cheong that there was a second Zhao Ziyang manuscript.  At this point, there are three possibilities:

(A)  There really is a second Zhao Ziyang manuscript, and Zong lied to the Washington Post in that telephone interview.  But one would think that if this manuscript was the real issue here, then the National Security Bureau would have been all over Zong already.  If there is a leak, it should be plugged at the source instead of chasing it all over the place downstream.  But Zong was not under isolated detention or restriction as Zhao Ziyang was, and was apparently resting at home and taking telephone calls from the Washington Post.

(B)  Zong Fengmin did not have a second Zhao Ziyang manuscript ready, but his editor wanted to make a quick buck by passing out a fake manuscript without Zong's knowledge.  His action was monitored by the National Security Bureau, and Ching Cheong was arrested when he attempted to receive the manuscript.  This scenario gets back to the problem from (A), because Zong is apparently not under isolated detention.

(C)  Zong's editor was in fact working for the National Security Bureau to set up a trap for Ching Cheong.

Now I don't know if any of the above is true, but this is a logical set of possible sequences.

However, everything was shattered with the revelation that two members of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences were arrested.  Immediately, Mary Lau published an open letter to Chinese President Hu Jintao (see Grand Unification of Theories about the Case of Ching Cheong).

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.

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 ...

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 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." 

If you want a five-minute primer on the Ching Cheong case, then the Lu Jianhua connection is the much bigger story.  After all, this came in the form of a very public letter from Mary Lau, the wife of Ching Cheong, addressed to the President of the People's Republic of China.  Yet, neither the South China Morning Post nor The Standard mentioned that name Lu Jinhua. 

Let me repeat: Mary Lau, the wife of Ching Cheong, mentioned in an open letter to Hu Jintao, President of the People's Republic of China, about Ching's connection to Lu Jianhua and the internal data of the Chinese government.  Why do South China Morning Post and The Standard gloss over that claim?

Addendum:  On August 22, 2004, SCMP (via Asia Media) continued to write: "Ching has been detained since April 22 when he returned to Guangzhou to collect transcripts of interviews conducted by Zong Fengming , a former party official and long-time associate of late Communist Party leader Zhao Ziyang."  This is definitive proof that the SCMP editors and reporters do not read this blog ... as if I care ...