18 February 2019
Pro-democracy supporters such as the organizers of Occupy Central have been accused of working with foreign entities and receiving money from them. Photo: RTHK
Pro-democracy supporters such as the organizers of Occupy Central have been accused of working with foreign entities and receiving money from them. Photo: RTHK

Beijing on foreign donations: The pot calling the kettle black

A researcher in the Central Compilation and Translation Bureau of the Chinese Communist Party reveals interesting details in a 2011 paper about political donations and financial aid to the party during its early days from Communist International (Comintern).

Xu Yuangong’s paper, based on declassified files from the former Soviet Union, confirms rumors that the Communist Party owes its existence to Moscow.

The paper says the Soviets also provided opium to China.

The revelations made their way to a number of newspapers including Beijing-backed Global Times and Hong Kong’s Ta Kung Pao in May 2013, the 70th anniversary of Comintern.

The headlines screamed “Communist International’s sponsorship of opium”.

Comintern began in 1919, shortly after the Russian Revolution, when Vladimir Lenin wanted a vehicle to export communism to other countries.

Initially after the party’s founding in July 1921, the top communist leadership in China distanced itself from Moscow and resisted financial support from Comintern until newly elected General Secretary Chen Duxiu was suddenly arrested in Shanghai.

Henk Sneevliet, the Comintern representative to China, bribed prosecutors and judges to secure Chen’s release.

The following year, the Communist Party officially became a Comintern member. It acknowledged Moscow’s leadership.

Indeed, since its early days, the Communist Party has relied on foreign handouts.

According to its official archives, without money from Sneevliet in the form of honoraria, party members would not have been able to make the trip to Shanghai to attend the party’s first national congress.

Guo Moruo, a prominent Chinese poet, was so moved by the gesture he refers to former Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin as “my father” in one of his works.

Comintern’s aid to the Communist Party was usually in the form of diamonds and opium. The party would then sell or pawn the items.

Chen once complained that the party was out at the elbows and Moscow’s help was not enough. He began accepting money from the Kuomintang and from warlords such as Zhang Zuolin.

It is no secret that the Communist Party itself is a child of foreign forces.

Its philosophy dictates that it is right to accept aid and donations — even opium — from a foreign country. That was the thinking behind its attempts to overthrow the ruling Beiyang government.

This historical insight helps us understand the Hong Kong government’s strident accusations that pan-democrats have been “accepting money from foreign forces and individuals”.

(Campaigns and protests led by Labor Party’s Lee Cheuk Yan, League of Social Democrats’ Leung Kwok-hung and Occupy Central organizer Benny Tai are allegedly sponsored by the National Endowment for Democracy, a United States non-profit organization founded to promote democracy overseas).

Hong Kong’s anti-graft watchdog, the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), is investigating these allegations. Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has said he will make all evidence public at an appropriate time.

I am eager to see the evidence and whether these donations are anything like those the Communist Party has received.

What is the Hong Kong government’s stance on money from the mainland?

Don’t forget that a recently jailed top official once got a large payment from a Beijing mandarin. Did the ICAC think the case needed to be investigated?

It’s ironic that the Communist Party, a recipient of foreign largesse, is using overseas donations to Hong Kong democrats to bash them. It’s a classic example of the pot calling the kettle black.

Article 23 of the Basic Law prohibits local political organizations or bodies from establishing ties with foreigners.

The prohibition covers political donations, but since a national security clause under Article 23 is yet to be enacted, the ban is open to debate.

Many countries including Australia, the Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium, Luxemburg and Estonia do not ban foreign political donations.

Others such as New Zealand, Austria, Germany, Switzerland and Finland allow them with a few restrictions, according to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, a Swedish intergovernmental pro-democracy organization.

Britain is relatively strict, with such aid capped at £500 (US$762) but only as a form of reimbursement for overseas trips.

Article 23 has deliberately left the door open for donations from the mainland.

That means pro-Beijing political groups can leverage their mainland connection for money, something pan-democrats cannot do.

I would like to propose an independent, transparent fund to pool all foreign and local donations. Parties and groups can have access to the money based on their share of votes.

Also, they should be allowed to legally accept direct donations from non-political overseas entities such as environmental groups, chambers of commerce and labor organizations for non-election purposes, subject to a certain cap.

This mechanism does not contravene Article 23 and can potentially be written into a future political party law.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Feb. 9.

Translation by Frank Chen

– Contact us at [email protected]


Former full-time member of the Hong Kong Government’s Central Policy Unit, former editor-in-chief of the Hong Kong Economic Journal

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