Ching Cheong's plight is a chilly reminder of the sensitivity and vulnerability in the city's body politic under 'one country, two systems'.
Whether the five-year jail term for spying charges is severe or lenient is a matter of interpretation. It is clear many people are not convinced he has done anything wrong.
A report by Xinhua seeking to justify the case has raised more questions than answers. And even though his lawyer and two family members were allowed to hear the verdict at a Beijing court yesterday, their presence helps little to instil public confidence that Ching has been given a fair trial.
This is despite the clear and strong calls by a wide section of the community in the past 16 months for Beijing to handle the Ching case in a fair, open and transparent manner.
Among supporters and sympathisers of Ching were long-time local deputies to the National People's Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference. They include Ching's former university classmates who now occupy senior government posts.
Their unreserved plea stems from a degree of trust in the character and integrity of Ching, who is known as a long-time patriot and principled journalist. To them, claims he traded national interest for personal gain are unbelievable. It seems Ching landed in trouble because he provided information deemed by Beijing to be state secrets and maintained contacts with a think-tank in Taipei.
Beneath the accusation of spying for Taiwan lies a deep paranoia in the communist government about infiltration or interference by hostile forces outside the mainland through Hong Kong. Such fears have resonated among pro-Beijing figures who hinted that foreign forces pressured pan-democratic legislators to veto the constitutional reform last year.
The Ching case seems fraught with doubts and contradictions, if not absurdities. Its implications for the concept of 'one country, two systems' are profound, given that a free flow of information and exchange of ideas between a journalist and a Taiwan think-tank have been seen as a conspiracy against national security.