Former Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying on Monday challenged the city’s Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC) to give up its lease and bid for the premises in the open market, as he ramped up his attacks over its refusal to cancel a planned talk this month by a separatist party founder.
“If the FCC believes that they are not being subsidised by [the] government, perhaps they should give up the lease and bid for the premises in the open market. The result would be conclusive,” he said in a written reply to questions raised by the Post, which he also uploaded to his Facebook page.
Former Hong Kong leader CY Leung steps up attack on Foreign Correspondents’ Club over talk by separatist party head Andy Chan
Leung called out the club over the weekend for paying only “a token rent” to the government for its building on Ice House Street in Central, but it turned out the FCC was paying market rent amounting to HK$580,000 monthly.
The former chief executive has been highly critical of the FCC’s decision to proceed with an August 14 talk by Hong Kong National Party founder Andy Chan Ho-tin.
China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs earlier asked the FCC not to provide a platform to Chan, whose party is facing a possible ban by the Hong Kong government as an “imminent threat” to national security. The party has until September 4 to argue its case.
Leung’s successor, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, on Sunday described the FCC’s position as “regrettable and inappropriate”, but clarified the premises were being leased at market rate.
According to the government, the building is on a seven year lease expiring in 2023.
Leung pointed out that the FCC did not have to bid for the premises in the open market, which was “not the normal process”.
The club on Monday issued a statement after a meeting of its board of governors, maintaining that the public had the right to hear “views of different sides in any debate”.
It added that while speaker events were “core” activities, “hosting such events does not mean that we either endorse or oppose the views of our speakers”.
Leung is one of Hong Kong’s two vice-chairmen at the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, a top advisory body to Beijing. He said he was opposing the FCC’s decision of his own accord, without prompting by the central government.
“All Chinese citizens should speak out against secessionists,” he said, adding that “responsible organisations simply do not provide platforms to promote certain propositions”.
Lau Siu-kai, vice-chairman of the semi-official think-tank, The Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, said Leung – as a retired chief executive – had more room than his successor to speak out on such issues.
But he cautioned: “Beijing has multiple channels to communicate with the chief executive … They have to be wary not to overplay the issue, so as not to affect the city’s international image.”
Democratic Party lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting said Leung should stay out of such matters as he was no longer in charge.
“Leung is trying to show the central government that he is an anti-Hong Kong independence leader in the pro-establishment camp,” Lam said.
Chris Patten, the city’s last British governor, also weighed in, telling the media that freedom of speech in Hong Kong was protected by the Sino-British Joint Declaration signed in 1984 ahead of the city’s return to Chinese sovereignty in 1997.
“It is quite simply wrong for Beijing’s communist foreign ministry to get involved with an issue which should be determined within Hong Kong,” he said.
According to the FCC’s website, Leung himself “was briefly a member from 1977”, alongside many celebrities and government officials. When he spoke at the club as chief executive in December 2012, the club’s then-president Doug Wong presented him with his old membership number.
“CY was happy to accept. Unfortunately, his [staff] prevailed and he returned his membership offer,” the FCC stated.
The club also described the current chief executive as one of the FCC’s supporters when they last negotiated the lease in 2007 – she was secretary for development at the time.
The FCC previously paid HK$4.5 million in rent in 2015 before it took up a new lease. Its more than 2,000 members – including journalists and corporate staff – pay annual fees but it draws the bulk of its income from restaurant and bar receipts.