Beijing Rivalry Plays Itself Out in Hong Kong

The vicious internecine party vendettas of the mainland are coming to Hong Kong. No one is surprised if high-profile Beijing critics in Hong Kong get arrested on the mainland with trumped up charges ranging from theft of state secrets to fraud, business malpractice, etc.

But in an indication of a deep split among the party faithful and between them and Beijing’s liaison office in the territory, semi-official organs have begun a character assassination campaign against a hitherto solid member of the local pro-Beijing establishment.

Underlying all this appears to be a desperate attempt on Beijing’s part to put a lid on criticism of Chief Executive CY Leung, whose terms is up next year but who wants to continue in his office and clearly believes he has Beijing’s backing.

Singled out for attack has been Gu Zhuoheng, a mainland-origin businessman who is chairman of the local media company Sing Pao Media Enterprises, which owns Sing Pao, a small circulation daily paper. Ta Kung Kao, the most official of all the Beijing-owned media in Hong Kong has just devoted a whole page to Gu’s allegedly dodgy activities, incluaasading involvement in illegal-deposit taking and that he was wanted in Shenzhen on fraud charges. Two other Beijing daily mouthpieces, Wen Wei Po and Hong Kong Commercial Daily, have run similar stories. Gu denies all allegations and says the reports are made up.

The publications’ attacks are evidently motivated by any new information about Gu, or possibly specific, evidenced-backed charges. They follow directly on a full-page article in Sing Pao criticizing the chief executive for going overboard with his attacks on localists and so likely to make the issue bigger than it needed be.

Once an attack as an extremist fringe, the localist movement has become what many see as an attempt by the government to clamp down on free speech and single out student movements with threats of prosecution.

A few months earlier Sing Pao, normally a faithful follower of the government line, criticized Leung for pressuring airport staff to give preferential treatment to his daughter to allow her to retrieve a piece of left-behind luggage that had not gone through customs inspection. Though an adult, she had appealed to her dad for help when she fell afoul of airport regulations.

Criticisms of Leung on both these scores are nothing unusual in the more intelligent pro-government circles and particularly among those facing an electorate among whom Leung is widely unpopular. Tsang Yok-sing, the outgoing President of the Legislative Council and former head of the largest pro-Beijing party, has made no secret of his own disagreement with Leung on several issues.

Whatever his actual business record, the treatment of Gu thus seems like an attempt to frighten other pro-government figures into avoiding criticism of Leung and thus reducing pressure for Beijing to favour a more popular is less pliable alternative when the selection process is undertaken next year. It also reflects Xi Jinping’s crackdown on all and any dissent whether within the party or from outside.