What's Sing Pao up to? Bringing down CY or media blackmail?

October 11, 2016 10:47
Some suggest Sing Pao’s recent attacks on CY Leung and top mainland officials is just media blackmail for the paper’s owner, Gu Zhuoheng (above), to get amnesty for criminal offenses in China. Photo: Sing Pao

For the past four weeks, Hong Kong people have been rushing to buy a newspaper so quickly that the stalls have sold out by mid-morning.

Is it Apple or Oriental Daily, the best-selling titles in the city?

No, this is Sing Pao, a modest and little-read paper.

It has leapt into the news with remarkable stories “revealing the secrets of the ‘Gang of Four’ who are causing chaos in Hong Kong”.

The Four are Chief Executive CY Leung: Zhang Xiaogang, head of the Central Government Liaison Office; Jiang Zaizhong, chairman of the two main Communist dailies in Hong Kong; and a fourth man whose name it has not revealed.

It has even attacked Zhang Dejiang, the third most powerful man in China and chairman of the National People’s Congress (NPC), the parliament.

He is also the top official for Hong Kong and Macau affairs.

The newspaper has accused the Liaison Office of selling seats in the NPC and the advisory body, the CPPCC, the China People’s Political Consultative Congress.

Here is part of an article from October 3: “Everyone in political circles in Hong Kong knows that, to follow the path to the CPPCC in provinces and cities in the mainland, they must make contact with the Liaison Office and offer advantages in order to obtain a paper of recommendation.

“Those in political circles say that the officials of ‘the Western district” (the Liaison Office) are increasingly knowledgeable about what to eat and drink. It must exactly suit their taste.

“The meals have moved into private homes and private clubs in order to escape detection. To obtain nomination for a CPPCC seat for a mainland city or province, you must invite a famous chef from Japan or fly fresh fish in from Japan, if you want to succeed.

“Zhang Dejiang is complacent about this NPC corruption system and promotes it openly; he is beside himself with laughter, like CY Leung and Zhang Xiaogang, and accustomed to ‘feeling good’.”

The paper said that the independence issue here was created by the Chief Executive as part of a plan to be nominated for a second term, by presenting a city in chaos that needs a strong, reliable leader to keep control.

It has called Wen Hui Bao and Ta Kung Pao, the two main Communist titles in the city, "clown papers".

These attacks are the more extraordinary because the owner of Sing Pao is no Hong Kong democrat but mainland businessman Gu Zhuoheng, who injected new capital in 2014 to save it from bankruptcy.

At the time, most people saw this as part of Beijing’s strategy to extend its control over the Hong Kong media. Until these recent attacks, its editorial line had always been pro-Beijing.

According to mainland websites, Gu graduated with a degree in law and is a successful businessman with interests in mining, wealth management and real estate.

There is limited public information about him.

In response to the attacks, Wen Hui and Ta Kung have accused Gu of being a criminal who stole 130 million yuan (US$19.37 million) from an online financial platform in Shenzhen and fled abroad to escape arrest.

They quoted Shenzhen police as saying he was a wanted man. Gu has called the accusations "false and libelous".

While Hong Kong people much enjoy these juicy revelations of infighting and name-calling within the mainland bureaucracy, they are confused as to the motives behind it.

Gu himself is not a well-known figure here or in the mainland and has not given an explanation.

There are two main explanations.

One is that Sing Pao would not dare to be so outspoken in criticising powerful government figures without strong backers in Beijing.

These backers do not want Leung to have a second term as chief executive and are using the paper to blacken his name.

In its Oct. 7 edition, the paper, gave lengthy coverage to a speech by Finance Secretary John Tsang in Los Angeles, in which he stressed the importance of unity in Hong Kong society and said that this was the responsibility of everyone.

Beijing has not indicated its preference for the next chief executive; lobbying behind the scenes is intense.

The other explanation is less heroic.

“I do not bother to read Sing Pao at all,” said a veteran Hong Kong journalist who has covered the mainland for 30 years.

“These stories are all nonsense. Gu wants amnesty for criminal offenses in the mainland, allowing him to go back and continue his businesses there.

"If the government offers this, he will stop the criticisms at once. It is media blackmail, common in the mainland, where journalists threaten to report negative news about a person or a company but will spike the story if they are paid enough.”

The tactics and language used by the paper are typical of the mainland and of an earlier era, such as the Cultural Revolution, when politicians used the ‘pen’ to wage war against their opponents and called them nicknames.

We will learn the answer sooner or later. In the meantime, enjoy the ride.

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A Hong Kong-based writer, teacher and speaker.