HONG KONG—A key figure in the Chinese government’s spying allegations against Hong Kong-based journalist Ching Cheong has said the detained Straits Times correspondent may have walked into a trap, and he denied ever arranging to give sensitive documents to Ching, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reports.
“It’s not true. He wasn’t going to come and pick up the manuscript.... That never happened,” retired Communist Party official Zong Fengming told RFA’s Mandarin service. “If that happened then it was a trap set for him by someone else,” Zong, a longtime friend and comrade-in-arms of late ousted Party boss Zhao Ziyang, told reporter Yan Ming.
Zong said the manuscript in question contained notes from 15 years’ of private and wide-ranging conversations with Zhao, who was stripped of all official posts and placed under house arrest for his sympathetic stance toward the student-led pro-democracy protests of 1989. “I can tell you for sure that he wasn’t going to come and pick up material from me, and that we never discussed such an arrangement. It’s not true. I don’t know Ching Cheong. I’ve never met him,” Zong said.
It’s (the manuscript) not in a fit state...things haven’t got to that stage yet.
Zhao died in Beijing in January. He was widely mourned by pro-democracy activists, ordinary people left high and dry by rapid social changes, and in Hong Kong, but his death was limited to a terse few paragraphs in China’s state-controlled media. An official campaign to erase his memory from contemporary political life appears to have been largely successful, with very few of the younger generation even aware of what he symbolizes, Chinese political analysts say.
Ching’s wife Mary Lau had earlier told RFA that Ching was set up by the authorities as he traveled to the southern city of Guangzhou to pick up the manuscript of Zhao interviews. He was detained in the city April 22. Lau apparently believed Ching’s mission to be a genuine journalistic task. Read earlier RFA coverage of this story in English
Ching is the second employee of a foreign media organization to be held by the Chinese government in a year, after New York Times researcher Zhao Yan was formally arrested for allegedly revealing state secrets in September 2004. Eight months later, Zhao has yet to face trial.
Zong said he knew Zhao Ziyang very well, and visited him “too many times to count” during the years of his house arrest in Beijing. “Yes, we were from the same town, we fought together, and we were old friends,” Zong told RFA. “I saw Zhao too many times to count. I spent a lot of time in conversation with him. I wrote down a lot of notes from those times.” But he said the manuscript was not yet ready to publish. “It’s not in a fit state...things haven’t got to that stage yet,” he said.
“I gave my books to Zhao to have a look at. He told me not to use him as the main theme of the first book, but that was in my hands because it was about me. But the second book was about him, so I gave it to him to decide. He told me to hide it away, not to publish it.”
“The subject matter is very broad. Foreign affairs, domestic affairs, everything to do with economics, culture, economic reforms, political reforms,” said Zong, who served in the communist revolutionary forces alongside Zhao from 1938. “During the revolution, we lived together, ate together. After the start of the Liberation war (1946), we started to go our separate ways...Later we met up again when he was posted to Beijing.”
Zong said he wanted to preserve the Zhao papers as part of China’s historic record. “This is the task set for me by history. At my age, I don’t care if they try to put pressure on me. That’s my attitude.”
He said he shared Zhao’s view of the 1989 protests. Zhao reportedly told top leaders, including Deng Xiaoping, that the students’ desires and wishes were the same as those of the Party leadership.
“We will see if there’s any change in the present situation. Then we might consider publishing it as historical material. He was, after all, a historical personage, so we could treat it as historical material,” he said. “He was a national leader, and he was thrown under house arrest all of a sudden because he wanted to stand up for what was right. So I admire him for that.”
“I felt I should tell him what was going on, because being under house arrest was very difficult for him. So I used to go and chat with him, talk about things.”