15 September 2019
Pro-Beijing newspapers are criticizing Jimmy Lai for supporting democrats but they're not saying a word about DAB, which is backed by pro-Beijing businessmen. Photo: HKEJ,
Pro-Beijing newspapers are criticizing Jimmy Lai for supporting democrats but they're not saying a word about DAB, which is backed by pro-Beijing businessmen. Photo: HKEJ,

Lai, leaks and HK’s proxy political war

Ding! Ding! And the bell has sounded on a new smear campaign by the pro-Beijing camp against the pan-democrats. The latest target is Next Media chairman Jimmy Lai over his support for the opposition camp and alleged links to foreign politicians.

A clutch of pro-Beijing newspapers reported Tuesday that a person claiming to be a Next Media shareholder sent them details of Lai’s talks with Taiwan opposition veteran Shih Ming-teh on the Occupy Central campaign. The correspondence also outlined Lai’s donations to various Hong Kong pan-democratic parties.

Speaking on an Apple Daily talk show Tuesday, Lai admitted that he donated HK$40 million in total to pro-democracy parties in Hong Kong, including contributions to the Democratic Party and the Civic Party. He said he is a full supporter of the pan-democrats so it was not wrong to donate to them. Lai also insisted that he’s not a politician and he does not interfere in the operations of the political parties he supports.

Sources said the information was stolen from Next Media’s system by hackers, not insiders. Whatever the case, the story was perfectly timed to coincide with Lai’s return from holiday Monday.

In a front page story, pro-Beijing newspaper Ta Kung Pao described Lai’s donations as “black gold” and wondered how it was that Lai was able to make political donations when Next Media has not performed well financially. It suggested that the funds came from an overseas source like the US and were aimed at interference in Hong Kong internal affairs.

The pro-Beijing camp would like to use Lai’s close ties to the US and his wealth as a stick to beat the pan-democrats, claiming that foreign powers are using him to control the opposition and meddle in Hong Kong affairs. But Lai said all of the donations were from his personal fortune and he would not accept money from a foreign government to make such a donation.

On top of that, the pro-Beijing camp has no proof that Lai’s funding is linked directly to the United States.

Lai is a controversial media figure because of his clear stand against Communist Party rule. As a result, all Next Media publications and websites are banned on the mainland despite being hugely popular in Hong Kong. Next Media is a major headache for Beijing because Lai use the media to challenge Beijing’s power over Hong Kong, the same trick the Communists use for their own purposes.

Lai is free to support political parties, and is calling on more rich people to support the pan-democrats. But his fundraising efforts are dwarfed by the help given by the Central Government Liaison Office to the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong. In just one night the DAB raised HK$60 million, helped along by the HK$13.8 million brought in by the auction of a piece of calligraphy by liaison office director Zhang Xiaoming.

Beijing is firing off rounds in the war of public opinion to try to destroy the legitimacy of pan-democrats fighting for unfettered universal suffrage in the 2017 chief executive election. Lai’s case shows that Beijing will not tolerate different media voices on the issue.

Beijing wants to set the agenda and is using personal attacks on opposition leaders to move them from the moral high ground. Other targets of this tactic include Robert Chung, director of the Public Opinion Programme at the University of Hong Kong, City University political science professor Joseph Cheng, and Joshua Wong of student group Scholarism.

But the big question is how can any party take the high ground if they base an attack on material stolen from an email system? And will Hong Kong police remain neutral and handle the case in a professional way?

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EJ Insight writer