Next Media chairman Jimmy Lai Chee-ying and his top aide yesterday hit back at reports that linked his meeting last month with former US deputy defence secretary Paul Wolfowitz with the debates on Hong Kong's political reform.
Sing Tao Daily and Eastweek Magazine reported that Lai and Wolfowitz met on a yacht in Sai Kung for five hours.
They did not mention what was discussed, but Sing Tao's last line reads: "It's intriguing that [Wolfowitz] suddenly appeared in Hong Kong before July 1, and met Lai for five hours."
The US consulate refused to comment on the reports.
Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said she did not know a lot about the meeting. But she said Beijing was against foreign forces intervening in Hong Kong's affairs.
Lai said in his own online show that he and Wolfowitz had known each other for a long time. He said he had never received foreign funding nor had any links with foreign powers.
Asked why the meeting lasted so long, Lai replied: "We don't just chat on the boat. We go swimming too."
Mark Simon, a commercial director at Next Media Animation, said the reports were an attempt to divert attention from the cyberattack on the website of Apple Daily, published by Next Media.
"They are doing everything they can to keep the hack out of the story," Simon said. "This is another sad attempt to change the topic in Hong Kong."
Apple Daily, which is known for its pro-democracy stance and has reported extensively on Occupy Central, has been targeted by hackers ahead of the movement's "referendum" on electoral reform.
Last week Beijing released a white paper that said "outside forces" were interfering in Hong Kong's political development - a claim rejected by Washington.
Simon said that Lai and Wolfowitz had been friends since the latter became head of the US-Taiwan Business Council in 2008. Last June the pair went to Myanmar and during the trip Lai was twice invited by the Chinese embassy to a dinner in Yangon.
"So the Chinese are well aware of the friendship," Simon said.
Wolfowitz was deputy defence secretary in the George W. Bush administration between 2001 and 2005.
He then joined the World Bank as president but was forced to resign in 2007 after an internal panel concluded that he had broken bank rules by securing his girlfriend a pay rise and a promotion.
Additional reporting by Kristine Kwok