Edited on Jan. 14 with new subsection
Leading figures in Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp have called out Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying for repeating a claim that “external forces” are backing the Umbrella Movement without providing proper evidence.
When the Occupy Central protests were in full swing late October 2014, Leung said in a local television interview that “foreign forces” have been interfering in the city’s politics for a long time, and hinted that the student-led protests were “scripted.” Proof, Leung added, would be furnished at an “appropriate time.”
Pro-democracy demonstrators occupied key roads in Hong Kong’s central financial district and commercial neighborhoods to demand universal suffrage for city leader elections in 2017. The protests were inspired by Beijing’s decision to allow a free vote after screening the candidates.
Nearly 90 days after announcing the foreign intrigue, Leung finally named three “external forces”—foreign governments, their various departments and agencies, and foreign-based non-governmental organizations—at a book launch event Monday that only pro-establishment Hong Kong newspapers Ta Kung Pao and Wen Wei Pao were allowed to attend.
The “trace of external forces,” Leung reportedly said, can be found in public sources and leaked emails concerning Benny Tai, one of the co-founders of civil activism group Occupy Central with Love and Peace.
Tai, a legal scholar at the University of Hong Kong (HKU), had supposedly gave HKD$1.3 million ($167,674) in donations from at least one anonymous donor to his employer to cover part of the costs incurred by the Occupy movement. HKU’s management noted in December that Tai’s donation did not break the university’s rules, according to the South China Morning Post (SCMP).
But local academic’s donations to the university are suspect, Leung supposedly says, because they were made via cashier’s cheques issued by a HSBC branch in Kwun Tong, the same bank branch from which media mogul Jimmy Lai had allegedly made donations to pan-democrat lawmakers for the past few years. Lai, who claims he is not guilty of wrongdoing, is currently being investigated by Hong Kong’s anticorruption agency.
Leung did not explain how making donations from the Kwun Tong HSCB branch counted as proof that “external forces” were behind the Occupy protests.
An Executive Council meeting Tuesday, Leung further alleged that the Tai was “accepting foreign funds,” and that such forces will cause “national security issues,” Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) reports.
In response, Tai called Leung’s allegations a “joke,” and said that they are “completely groundless.”
Tai adds that it is “absolutely normal” for scholars like himself to discuss the constitutional status of Hong Kong with the three “external forces” Leung listed, and wonders if Leung is living in a “parallel” world “without globalization,” according to Ming Pao.
Tai says he will in time reveal the source of his group’s funds, RTHK reports.
Key pro-democracy supporters have also slammed the hugely unpopular city leader for his remarks.
Pan-democrat lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan said Leung’s latest “external forces” claim is “illogical.”
“His remarks have insulted Hongkongers’ intelligence,” said the Labor Party chairman, adding that Leung “should write fantasy novels,” Apple Daily reports.
Emily Lau, another pan-democrat, rejected Leung’s “same bank account” story and asked him to support his claims with “facts.”
“Even the HSBC lions are laughing,” the Democratic Party chairwoman said, referencing the iconic pair of lion sculptures outside the entrance of the HSBC Main Building in Hong Kong.
Kenneth Chan, the former chairman of the Civic Party, said the embattled Chief Executive made “baseless” allegations in what he suspects is an attempt by Leung to pressure the Hong Kong police to find evidence to prosecute the key pro-democracy figures, according to Ming Pao.
Going by Leung’s allegations, Chan argues, Leung himself can also be linked with “foreign forces” because he accepted a secret contract worth $6.5 million from Australian engineering company UGL while holding office.
18-year-old Joshua Wong, the most prominent face of the Umbrella Movement, could not resist a quick jibe.
When Leung first suggested that the Occupy protests had foreign backing, Wong listed “Korean cellphones,” “American computers,” and “Japanese Gundam”—a giant robot science fiction anime—as his “external relations.”
In a Facebook post Tuesday, Wong said that his “three ‘external forces'” are “Facebook, Whatsapp, Youtube.”
While the United Nations and a number of countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom, support Hongkongers’ aspirations for genuine universal suffrage, none have pledged aid for the Umbrella Movement.
In a press conference during the 2014 APEC economic summit in Beijing, President Barack Obama that the “United States had no involvement in fostering the protests” in Hong Kong.
But the pro-democracy movement could have received “foreign” help from the unlikeliest of sources.
Finance professionals who participated in the Occupy protests told RTHK that a Chinese Communist Party member who is a Hong Kong resident made a five-figure donation to them.
Edward Chin, the organizer of 2047 Hong Kong Finance Monitor, said the unnamed donor wanted to “see how important democracy is.”