The pro-Beijing Sing Pao newspaper has accused two local newspapers, Wen Wei Po and Ta Kung Po, of being the China Liaison Office’s mouthpieces and contradicting Beijing’s policy of social stability by publishing articles that divide Hong Kong society.

Since late August, the Chinese-language newspaper has been publishing anonymous commentaries attacking Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and Beijing’s powerful organ in Hong Kong, the Liaison Office. The move has led to speculation that Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing camp is fissured and that Chinese President Xi Jinping is prepared to eradicate a powerful sector within the Communist Party.

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Sing Pao’s front page on October 5, 2016. Photo: Sing Pao.

Attack from Wen Wei Po, Ta Kung Pao

On Monday, Sing Pao criticised senior official Zhang Dejiang, ally of ex-leader Jiang Zemin, for allowing the Liaison Office to meddle in Hong Kong affairs. In response, Beijing mouthpieces Wen Wei Po and Ta Kung Po ran commentaries on Tuesday accusing Sing Pao of making up stories.

Ta Kung Po wrote: “For more than a month, Sing Pao has been running so-called ‘commentaries’ on its front pages, making ungrounded attacks and allegations against the chief executive, people in charge of the China Liaison Office, and even the country’s leader. The wording of the articles is so extreme, their content so ridiculous, it makes people raise their eyebrows.”

Wen Wei Po accused Sing Pao of attempting to stir up chaos in Hong Kong. It also suggested Sing Pao’s coverage is connected to the criminal record of its chairman, Gu Zhuoheng. It said that Gu is currently wanted by Chinese public security for illegally absorbing public deposits through his peer-to-peer lending business in mainland China, totalling RMB113 million.

Ta Kung Pao said that Gu attempts to clean his criminal record and evade liability by running misleading articles ahead of next year’s chief executive election.

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Ta Kung Pao ran a commentary attacking Sing Pao on Tuesday. Photo: Ta Kung Pao.

‘China Liaison Office’s mouthpieces’

In response, Sing Pao’s front page on Wednesday accused Wen Wei Po and Ta Kung Pao of being the mouthpieces of the China Liaison Office and running contrary to the Chinese Central Government’s position of social stability and harmony.

The newspaper wrote: “As a mouthpiece, one must first and foremost be recognised for its status [of mouthpiece] and credibility of sources. Wen Wei Po and Ta Kung Po, managed by the China Liaison Office, only love ‘Sai Wan’ [where the Liaison Office is located] and follow China Liaison Office Director Zhang Xiaoming and Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying.”

Under the supervision of China Liaison Office personnel, Sing Pao claims, the two newspapers “publish articles dividing Hong Kong society, making enemies and misleading the public, contrary to the Central Government’s goal of ‘pursuing development, maintaining stability and promoting harmony’.”

An example Sing Pao gave is Ta Kung Pao’s editorial on Chinese visitors to Hong Kong on the National Day holiday, in which Ta Kung Pao wrote that Hong Kong is “a place that mainland Chinese do not want to pay out of their pockets to visit.”

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Ta Kung Pao’s editorial on mainland Chinese visitors to Hong Kong during the National Day holidays. Photo: Ta Kung Pao.

Sing Pao criticised the two newspapers for wasting China’s public money, lacking credibility and popularity – except that they are popular among Hong Kong elderly who sell print newspapers to recycling companies, the newspaper wrote.

It said that Jiang Zaizhong, director of the Ta Kung Wen Wei Media Group, fails to bring up the two newspapers’ performance, and that Beijing should investigate whether Jiang has contravened party discipline.

It added that the fact that a magazine run by the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), China’s powerful anti-graft body, cited Sing Pao’s editorial instead of Ta Kung Pao and Wen Wei Po on Saturday, shows that Sing Pao is a more credible news source than the two Beijing mouthpieces.

“Gang of Four”

Sing Pao earlier urged the CCDI to investigate the China Liaison Office. The CCDI is headed by senior official Wang Qishan, who is an ally of Xi. Meanwhile, the newspaper claims that Zhang Dejiang, an ally of ex-leader Jiang Zemin, is behind the influential Liaison Office and permits his political syndicate to continue corrupt practices across China.

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Wang Qishan (left) and Zhang Dejiang (right). File

In August, Sing Pao ran a commentary accusing the chief executive of inciting the pro-independence movement to strengthen his power. In September, it declared Leung, the Liaison Office’s Zhang Xiaoming, Jiang Zaizhong of the Ta Kung Wen Wei Media Group and another to be the “Gang of Four” trying to destabilise Hong Kong. It later implied that the fourth person was former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa.

On Tuesday, Leung declined to comment on why he did not send legal threats to Sing Pao on defamation despite having done so to the pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily, which accused Leung of corruption in its editorial.

See also: Rivals of Xi encourage meddling by China Liaison Office in Hong Kong, pro-Beijing newspaper claims

Some analysts believe Sing Pao’s repeated anonymous critiques show that Beijing is set on replacing Leung in the upcoming chief executive election. Others believe it indicates factional infighting between the Jiang and Xi camps, with Leung belonging to the Jiang camp.

Veteran commentator Lai Chak-fun said that Sing Pao’s characterisation of the “Gang of Four” implies that ex-leader Jiang and his allies, including the chief executive and representatives of the Liaison Office, will eventually be held responsible for leading a syndicate to resist Xi and the Communist Party.

Ellie Ng has written for Foreign Policy, the Daily Telegraph, Global Voices Online and others.