HKFP Exclusive

A secretly recorded audio clip has surfaced of the beleaguered LegCo President Jasper Tsang Yok-sing repeating a racist joke at a private talk held at the height of last year’s umbrella movement protests.

In the recording, handed to Hong Kong Free Press by a witness, Tsang jokes about clearing protesters from the street by encouraging Africans from Chungking Mansions to go down to the Occupy camp site – all with the bonus of free food and lodging. At the time, the ebola crisis was also dominating the headlines.

Later in the evening, Tsang said that, even if Africans were not sent, there was “a rather high probability of an epidemic” due to hygiene concerns at the pro-democracy protest site.

“I had lunch with a number of my… schoolmates last Friday. One of them is a doctor. And he said ‘I tell you how to get people off the street. There are many Africans staying in Chungking Mansions. You go there. Get half a dozen Africans. Tell them – look, go there. Go to Harcourt Road, you have beautiful tents there, you can go sleep there without paying any rent. Get three meals every day. Free. Tell them to go there.’ …Just a joke”

The audience were largely silent as Tsang made the comment. After a short gap, he states “just a joke”.

Tsang was speaking at Hong Kong University’s elite St John’s College last November 3rd.

Asked whether he regretted the comments or wished to apologise, Mr Tsang responded to HKFP by email stating that “there was no racism intended in any remark I made on that occasion.” He added that the event “was a private party and members of the audience were clearly reminded that there should be no recording.”

Jasper Tsang

The audio file was provided to HKFP by a shocked student who attended the talk entitled ‘Universal Suffrage: A Review of the Proposals’. As the discussion format banned the recording or disclosure of comments made by speakers, the source wished to remain anonymous.

Akin Jeje, a permanent Hong Kong resident who co-organised the city’s first Black History Month, said that Tsang should apologise regardless of where the comments were made, as they were not humorous but hurtful.

“Tsang’s ‘joke’ was remarkably insensitive given the everyday struggles of many Africans in this city. They are either honest traders who help this economy, refugees who need compassion rather than ridicule, athletes invaluable to the local football leagues, and professionals and students who enhance life in Hong Kong,” Jeje said.

Jasper Tsang Yok-sing event

Attendance was strictly controlled and security was high at the event. According to the source, the audience included several hundred students, alumni, policy makers and business people.

Elsewhere in the hour-long recording, Tsang recalls another anecdote about a potential method for clearing the Mong Kok occupy site.

“I have been in touch with moderate members of the pan-democrats in the last few weeks. One of them, who is rather pessimistic, said he believes the best case scenario – the best thing that can happen – is a violent incident break[ing] out in Mong Kok. Small scale violent incident – but serious enough to make it necessary for the police to intervene and to take action… He suggested that… the SAR government should impose a curfew. A territory-wide curfew that would drive everybody away from the streets. Now, that would end the whole thing with the least bloodshed.”

Tsang said the occupy movement was a “doomed” and “zero sum game” to which “no-one can think of a win-win situation.” He said that Beijing would not budge as it may cause similar protests in other parts of China.

During the 30-minute talk and following Q&A session, Tsang also touched on theories that foreign forces were influencing Hong Kong’s democracy movement. He said that it was Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying’s responsibility to explain, stating that he himself had not seen any such evidence. However, Tsang said he would be “surprised” if other governments were “turning a blind eye” to what had been happening in Hong Kong.

Tsang has been under fire recently after local media exposed that he had directed pro-Beijing lawmakers via Whatsapp message during the political reform vote last month. On Thursday, he won Hong Kong’s highest honour, the Grand Bauhinia Medal. A Pan-democratic lawmaker Raymond Chan Chi-chuen has said that he will pursue a motion of no-confidence vote to remove him as president of the legislature.

Tom founded Hong Kong Free Press in 2015 and is the editor-in-chief. In addition to editing, he is responsible for managing the newsroom and company - including fundraising, recruitment and overseeing HKFP's web presence and ethical guidelines.

He has a BA in Communications and New Media from Leeds University and an MA in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong. He previously led an NGO advocating for domestic worker rights, and has contributed to the BBC, Deutsche Welle, Al-Jazeera and others.