Szeto Wah: Beijing saw me as city's Lee Kuan Yew

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 18 July, 2011, 12:00am


Beijing once saw Szeto Wah as Hong Kong's potential answer to Lee Kuan Yew, the architect of modern Singapore, after 1997, the late democracy stalwart revealed in his memoirs, launched posthumously yesterday.

In The Endless River Eastward Flows: A Memoir, Szeto wrote that Xu Jiatun, director of the Hong Kong branch of the Xinhua News Agency from 1983 to 1990, pinned high hopes on him and was grooming him as a possible future chief executive. Szeto believed he could become chief executive if he followed Beijing's orders.

Xinhua acted as Beijing's de facto embassy in Hong Kong before the handover in 1997. Szeto mentioned in his memoir that he rejected Xu's invitation in 1984 to join the Chinese Communist Party.

He had joined the New Democracy Youth League, the forerunner of the Communist Youth League, in September 1949.

'I learned that Li Qixin, then deputy director of the Hong Kong branch of Xinhua, said in an internal meeting [in the 1980s] that I [Szeto] should be able to become Hong Kong's 'Lee Kuan Yew',' Szeto wrote.

Lee became Singapore's prime minister in 1959 and led the city state to prosperity after independence from Malaysia in 1965.

Szeto died of lung cancer in January at the age of 79. His 300,000 word memoir is scheduled to hit the shelves on Wednesday.

In 1966, Szeto complained to Meng Qiujiang, a core member of the Communist Party's Hong Kong and Macau Works Committee, that the local branch of the party had abandoned him after 1960.

Szeto, who would later become chairman of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China, wrote that the Communist Party had treated him only as a tool of the party.

Speaking at the launch ceremony of the memoir yesterday, Szeto Keung, Szeto's younger brother, reiterated that it was his elder brother's instruction that the full contents of the audio recordings which were the source for parts of the memoir should remain private.

Szeto Keung, former deputy head of the foreign affairs department of Xinhua in Hong Kong, said his brother had told him that some materials related to the memoir should be made public only after 20 years, or even after 50 years, to protect the privacy of some of those involved.

According to his memoir, Szeto Wah said Gary Cheng Kai-nam, former vice-chairman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, helped arrange for a group of mainland doctors to help treat his lung cancer after he was diagnosed with the disease in December 2009.

Those doctors suggested three options to Szeto, including returning to the mainland for treatment, after a meeting in February last year. Szeto said Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen also pledged to arrange his trips to the mainland, even though his home-return permit had been invalid since 1989.

But Szeto rejected the idea of crossing the border for treatment.

Cheng confirmed yesterday that he had helped arrange for the mainland medical experts to meet Szeto, and had contacted the central government's liaison office in Hong Kong regarding their visit. 'Their visit to Hong Kong would not have been possible without the support of mainland authorities,' Cheng said.