Newspaper correspondent Ching Cheong

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 14 August, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 14 August, 2005, 12:00am

A five-minute primer on an issue making headlines

Who is he?

He is the chief correspondent for China at Singapore daily The Straits Times, who was arrested in Guangzhou on April 22 and charged this month with passing state secrets to Taiwan over a five-year period. He is accused of using money provided by Taiwan to buy political, economic and military information. Shortly after his arrest, the Foreign Ministry put out a statement saying he had confessed. Since his arrest, his family and colleagues have not been able to contact him.

What was he doing in Guangzhou?

The 55-year-old Hong Kong resident had been working on a story about late Communist Party leader Zhao Ziyang , and had been trying to obtain recordings and transcripts of secret interviews the former prime minister had given. Zhao died in January while under house arrest for negotiating with Tiananmen demonstrators in 1989.

Why has Ching been in the news again lately ?

Chinese-language newspapers ran articles claiming Ching sold state secrets to finance an affair with a mistress.


The woman in question - Huang Wei, a former editor of a Shenzhen publishing company - had previously been detained by mainland authorities for assisting in publication of a book on Zhao. She insists that she and Ching are just friends. Ching's wife says she does not believe her husband had a mainland mistress. Friends and colleagues claim the allegations are a smear campaign against Ching, who they describe as a 'patriot and family man'.

What kind of help is he getting from the Hong Kong government?

Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen has promised to keep in contact with his family and work behind the scenes to help him. He was criticised during his election campaign for refusing to see Ching's wife when she requested a meeting. Now, the Security Bureau contacts her once or twice a week with updates on her husband's case.

He's hardly the first Hongkonger to be arrested on the mainland. Why is this causing such a furore?

He is the first Hong Kong journalist to be charged with spying since the handover. The apparent unwillingness or inability of the Hong Kong government to intervene was strongly criticised and sent a shiver down the spine of Hong Kong's journalistic community. Many of Ching's former college mates from the University of Hong Kong are key players in many walks of life, and all insist he's an upstanding citizen with strong principles who would not be involved in espionage.

Is Beijing aware of the level of disquiet this has caused in Hong Kong?

In June, the Hong Kong Journalists Association sent a petition with thousands of signatures calling for his immediate release to President Hu Jintao . The alumni of Hong Kong University have also sent an open letter to Mr Hu. The International Federation of Journalists has protested against his detention, and Reporters Without Borders is running a worldwide campaign and petition calling for his release.

So, what happens now?

No date for his trial has been set. The Straits Times is pressing Beijing to ensure Ching has legal representation at the trial.

What happens if he's found guilty?

He could face penalties ranging from three years in jail to death. However, supporters glean hope from a similar case in 2001 when Li Shaomin, a former City University professor and US citizen, was convicted of spying for Taiwan while lecturing on the mainland. He was subsequently sentenced and deported to the US.