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Newly declassified documents seen by HKFP show that Hong Kong’s anti-graft agency invited the Chinese authorities to attend an international conference on corruption and economic crime in New York in October 1985, but the Chinese did not show up after promising to send a delegate.

The Hong Kong government was disappointed about the missed opportunity for a bilateral chat, according to records.

The information was revealed in a set of 1985 documents stored in the National Archives in Kew, London and declassified in August. The set of documents is entitled The Independent Commission Against Corruption of Hong Kong.

Photo: HKFP.

Mao Beigen, a top anti-corruption official from Shanghai, was initially nominated by the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs to attend the conference, upon the invitation of the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).

John Boyd, political adviser for the Hong Kong government, wrote to the British Embassy in Beijing on October 18, saying that Mao did not show up at the conference, “and by the end of it no word has been received by the organisers.”

“There has been some disappointment here at what was, in Hong Kong terms, a missed opportunity to talk about matters of mutual interest,” he wrote.

“However this is not a major tragedy. While the Commissioner for ICAC does not propose to make any further overtures at this stage, our own door remains open: if the Chinese wish to make contact ICAC remain of course ready to respond.”

Photo: HKFP.

Seminar with Shenzhen government rejected

Meanwhile, Boyd noted that the ICAC was invited to the Shenzhen University that month to give a talk on the role of supervisory staff in combating corruption.

The agency’s representatives were received by the Administrative Bureau of Shekou District of the Shenzhen government at a “semi-official reception” before the university visit.

A report in the documents noted that the Chinese officials “showed genuine interest” in knowing more about the work of the ICAC. Some even told the ICAC representative that they wanted to sit in to listen the lecture at the University of Shenzhen, but the plan was dropped as time did not permit it.

“For the time being the chance for the ICAC to liaise with the officials of the Bureau seems not very optimistic because the authorities concerned still have worries over the political sensitivity that such function may provoke,” wrote Bessie Wong, an officer of the ICAC.

The representatives were unable to meet with the director of the bureau, as he was receiving some guests at the time. The director also turned down his assistant’s proposal to invite the ICAC to talk to the officials of the bureau.

icac anti-corruption
File photo: HKFP, Tom Grundy.

Serious corruption in China, 1985

During a lunch with the university staff, academics told ICAC representatives that “the state of corruption in China was very serious and widespread”.

“[They] attributed this to the low pay scales of the Chinese officials, the majority of whom would seize every opportunity to take bribes to augment to their incomes,” the report read.

“They also commented that despite the fact that law enforcement officers in China were given wide powers, they were often unable to exercise their powers effectively because of interference by members of the senior cadre,” it added.

Photo: HKFP.

It also said the academics were “quite impressed” by the ICAC’s powers to investigate all complaints including those directed against senior civil servants and that the powers were not subject to “any undue influence from any quarters.”

After the visit, the ICAC was invited to give a similar lecture at the university again the following month. The academics were also invited to visit the ICAC in Hong Kong in late November 1985.

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.