The pro-Beijing Sing Pao newspaper has complained of threats from the China Liaison Office after it criticised key figures belonging to the camp of ex-leader Jiang Zemin.

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Sing Pao’s front page, October 3. Photo: Sing Pao.

 Since late August, the Chinese-language newspaper has been running 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.

‘Threats’ from the China Liaison Office

Following Sing Pao’s front page commentary on Monday that criticised senior official Zhang Dejiang, ally of ex-leader Jiang Zemin, for allowing the Liaison Office to meddle in Hong Kong affairs, the newspaper wrote on Wednesday that it had received threats from the Liaison Office.

It said that its chairman, Gu Zhuoheng, and management had been harassed and threatened by “Shenzhen public security, people who claim to represent the China Liaison Office, and Guangdong authorities” since late August.

See also: ‘China Liaison Office mouthpieces’ are dividing Hong Kong society, says pro-Beijing newspaper

“[They] threatened to silence Sing Pao by every means,” the paper wrote. “For example, a message to the [newspaper] company’s boss said: ‘If you don’t stop now, you will face bigger trouble.’”

Sing Pao said that those who received the threats were “extremely frightened” but were “even more disgusted by the China Liaison Office.”

“They are upset that these Hong Kong-based officials would use such dirty tricks in order to attack outspoken media,” the newspaper wrote. “However, it is admirable that, like Sing Pao, those receiving ‘threats’ are unafraid and willing to continue supporting Sing Pao to speak up despite threats to their personal safety, so that the Central Government would understand the thoughts of Hong Kong residents.”

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Sing Pao’s front page on September 9, 2016. File Photo: Wikicommons.

‘Press freedom’

Sing Pao’s anonymous commentator wrote that he and the newspaper’s reporters had “experienced true press freedom and did not have to be concerned about offending the powerful and the rich.”

“Because the only way we can get people to spend HK$7 on our newspaper is to be faithful to the truth and public opinion,” it added. “Although commercial consideration is always a priority, we must also be strong and upright.”

The newspaper accused the chief executive and the China Liaison Office of suppressing freedom of the press and destroying the “One Country, Two System” principle, preventing Hong Kong’s anti-graft body and law enforcement agencies from going after those involved in corrupt practices in Hong Kong.

It concluded that China’s powerful anti-graft organ, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), is the “only hope of Hongkongers” that is able to prosecute corrupt Chinese officials based in Hong Kong, “saving” the territory from the influence of the political syndicate associated with the China Liaison Office.

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

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

Sing Pao chairman

On Tuesday, Beijing mouthpiece Wen Wei Po wrote that Gu, Sing Pao’s chairman, 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.

Another Beijing mouthpiece Ta Kung Pao said that Gu attempts to clean his criminal record by publishing misleading articles ahead of next year’s chief executive election.

In response, Sing Pao attacked the two newspapers for being the mouthpieces of the China Liaison Office and contravening the Chinese government’s policy of promoting stability and harmony.

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Gu Zhuoheng, chairman of Sing Pao Media Enterprise. File

Gu took over Sing Pao in 2015 by injecting capital into the corporation when the paper was on the verge of bankruptcy. At the time, people in Hong Kong believed that Gu was backed by Beijing in taking over the paper, in order to strengthen the Chinese Communist Party’s control over media in Hong Kong.

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