During a recent rally inside the Hong Kong international airport, protesters spotted a man they suspected of being a Chinese agent. They soon surrounded him, searched his belongings, and zip-tied him.
They and Chinese media began to feverishly investigate his identity and background, creating an internet firestorm.
On Aug. 13, as protesters gathered at the airport to inform international travelers about the ongoing extradition bill crisis, they spotted a man who was taking close-up photos while wearing a yellow reflective vest—what many journalists covering the protests in Hong Kong have worn to identify themselves. Protesters soon surrounded him.
A protester told Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP) that Fu did not present a press pass when prompted, and tried to leave the premises. He also said in English that he was only traveling as a tourist, raising protesters’ suspicions that he was a Chinese agent.
They then tied him to a trolley and searched his bag. Video footage from the scene showed Fu yelling, “I support Hong Kong police, you can beat me up now.” An “I Love Police” T-shirt was also found among his belongings. The T-shirt was similar in design to those worn by attendees of recent pro-police rallies in the city. Pro-Police participants often express pro-Beijing sentiments.
They also got a hold of his wallet, which included his ID card, identifying him as a mainland Chinese citizen named Fu Guohao.
Several hours later, Hu Xijin, editor of the hawkish state-run Chinese newspaper Global Times, identified the person as a staff member at the publication and admonished the protesters for their treatment of Fu. In the immediate aftermath, China Daily and other state-run news outlets capitalized on the incident to paint Hong Kong protesters in a negative light, describing them with offensive language.
A search on the Global Times website shows several articles with Fu’s byline.
But many have raised questions about Fu’s identity.
Protesters took photos of a letter and a credit card from China Minsheng Bank that Fu possessed, and published them online. The name Fu Guohao appears on the letter, but Fu Hao on the credit card.
New York-based activist Wen Yunchao, also known by his online name “Bei Feng,” noted on Twitter that Fu seemed to hold multiple identities.
付国豪同时使用 Fu Guohao 及 Fu Hao 两个不同的名字，后者见民生银行卡。除非其拥有国安等特殊身份，否则在中国不可能同时持有不同名字的有效证件。相信其是受指派进入香港执行特殊任务。所谓环球时报的特派记者，不过是掩饰身份的需要。就如99年南斯拉夫炸馆事件中那几个所谓遇难记者。 pic.twitter.com/Jouzktn8e8
— 温云超（Yunchao Wen，北风） (@wenyunchao) August 13, 2019
“Unless he has special identity such as a national security agent, there’s no way for anyone in China to have valid credentials under different names,” Wen said in a tweet.
In China, all citizens must apply for a state-authorized ID at their local police bureau. Thus, it is highly unusual for a citizen to have personal identification records that are inconsistent.
Hong Kong netizens also tracked down Fu’s address, which is written on his ID card, and traced it to a dorm building in Beijing that belongs to the Ministry of State Security (MSS), China’s chief intelligence agency.
Through online sleuthing, netizens also found that he is listed as an employee of a Beijing-based media company called Dadi Times.
Hu, the Global Times editor, has dismissed the allegations that Fu is linked to Chinese authorities, calling it “absurd.”
“If you believe it then you can write it that way … There’s not that many people at China’s MSS, nor do China’s MSS have that much money,” Hu said during an interview with Voice of America (VOA).
In response to a question posed by the VOA reporter about whether not possessing a press pass would constitute a violation of Hong Kong law, he said that it was “nothing unusual.”
“He had just worked for Global Times for a year, and obtaining a press pass requires a set of procedures … A lot of young people don’t have press passes,” Hu said.