A senior Chinese Foreign Ministry official was reportedly guest of honour at a controversial hotpot dinner attended by top Hong Kong security officials which broke Covid-19 social distancing rules.

Song Ruan, former deputy commissioner for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China in Hong Kong. Photo: GovCN.

The dinner at a Wan Chai private club, attended by three Hong Kong security officials and a Chinese real estate group executive on March 2, was to bid farewell to Song Ruan, then-deputy commissioner of the Office of the Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China in Hong Kong, Ming Pao reported on Monday.

The dinner attended by Director of Immigration Au Ka-wang, Under Secretary for Security Sonny Au and Commissioner for Customs and Excise Hermes Tang was first disclosed by local media in July.

It became the subject of public scrutiny because the officials were treated to a meal that could have cost over HK$2,000 in a members-only club, in the presence of Chen Fen, an investment executive with Chinese real estate group Evergrande.

The presence of the officials came to light when police investigated rape allegations made against Chen by a woman who attended the dinner. Dining capacity at the time was limited to four per table as the city grappled with the fourth wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, and more than two dozen cases a day were recorded on average that week.

Director of Immigration Au Ka-wang, Under Secretary for Security Sonny Au , and Commissioner for Customs and Excise Hermes Tang
Director of Immigration Au Ka-wang, Under Secretary for Security Sonny Au , and Commissioner for Customs and Excise Hermes Tang. Photo: GovHK.

Nine people at the event were subsequently fined HK$5,000 each for breaching Covid rules. Chief Executive Carrie Lam and Secretary for Security Chris Tang defended the officials’ presence, saying it was a work-related occasion which the trio had apologised for.

Song’s departure was made public on April 3, when the Office of the Commissioner issued a statement to announce his return to Beijing and the arrival of his successor.

No to gourmet ingredients

China’s anti corruption rules, which cover its offices in Hong Kong, state that offices may provide one work-related meal to delegations which they host, but “must not provide gourmet ingredients, cigarettes or alcohol.”

“Work units must impose serious penalties if they find any behaviour in violation of rules and discipline. Those who violate disciplinary rules need to be penalised in accordance with party and political body measures and those involved in crimes are to be pursued in keeping with the law,” the rules read.

Anti corruption rules issued by China’s State Council, meanwhile, ban government and party officials from patronising private clubs and expensive restaurants in their official capacity. Gourmet ingredients “such as shark fin, swallow nest or other dishes made with wildlife” are banned for working meals.

Hotpot Chinese food
File Photo: momo via Flickr.

Ming Pao reported that it obtained a list of attendees which showed a total of 13 individuals, including current and former staffers from four other companies, the deputy director of China affairs at the University of Hong Kong, Winnie Lai, and a former Fire Department official.

An HKU spokesperson told HKFP Lai attended in her private capacity. The four unnamed companies did not respond to enquiries, Ming Pao said.

A Security Bureau spokesperson declined further comment to HKFP other than reiterating that only three Hong Kong government officials were at the event. Police said they would not reveal the identities of the individuals who were fined.

HKFP has reached out to the Office of the Commissioner and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for comment.

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Selina Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist who previously worked with HK01, Quartz and AFP Beijing. She also covered the Umbrella Movement for AP and reported for a newspaper in France. Selina has studied investigative reporting at the Columbia Journalism School.