A Chinese nationalist newspaper has released undated photographs showing Hong Kong activists meeting a man later charged with endangering China’s national security, but the activists deny receiving funding from him.
Amid heightened anti-government tensions in Hong Kong, Global Times, a tabloid affiliated with Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily, published photos on Saturday that appeared to show former Hong Kong student leader Alex Chow Yong-kang and activist “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung separately meeting Lee Henley Hu Xiang, who last month became the first overseas national charged by China with intervening in Hong Kong affairs.
Global Times claimed the photos were evidence of foreign forces funding the Hong Kong protests. It said the photos showed that Lee, a citizen of Belize, had been “using his cover identity as a US company representative in China to harvest money in the mainland in a frenzy, and then used this money to fund these troublemakers in Hong Kong”.
But Chow and Leung both denied the accusation on Tuesday, with Chow saying they “don’t actually know” Lee and did not obtain funding from him.
“I perhaps met this person for less than one minute in 2014,” Chow told the South China Morning Post. “I don’t know this person, not even his name. I hope the Chinese secret police are not torturing him.”
In one of the photos released by Global Times, Lee was shown standing and talking to Chow outside a fashion store in an unidentified mall. The other photo showed Leung talking to Lee in a restaurant.
Global Times did not disclose the sources of the photos, saying only that both were obtained from sources “who have contacts with Lee Henley Hu Xiang in Hong Kong”.
Leung said he could not recall the exact date of the meeting and was not aware of being photographed.
“It was a long time ago, perhaps during the Occupy movement in 2014. I was a legislator then, I talked to many people who came to me. What’s wrong with that?” he said.
Chinese state media has accused Lee of “providing a large amount of funds to hostile elements in the United States, colluding with foreign anti-China forces to intervene in Hong Kong affairs, and funding the implementation of criminal activities that endangered [China’s] national security”.
Leung said that he had always been against US diplomatic policies and that the claim he received foreign funding was “nonsense”. “I am a leftard, all Hong Kong people know I am anti-America,” he said.
Calling Global Times’ claim a “full demonstration of their inability to fabricate a more trustworthy story”, Chow said all the photo showed was “a random short conversation”.
“I would like to know what this person and I did after meeting outside a mall,” Chow said. “Where did we go, and what did we do? How did that endanger national security, if that’s even a thing?”
The Global Times photos coincided with the Beijing government deciding to impose a national security law on Hong Kong during “two sessions”, the annual meetings of China’s top legislative and political advisory bodies.
The decision to introduce the new law follows almost a year of unrest in Hong Kong – triggered by a now-shelved extradition bill which would have allowed the transfer of criminal suspects to mainland China – and has sparked concerns over the fate of the “one country, two systems” blueprint that has guided Hong Kong since its 1997 handover from Britain to China.
Global Times said Lee faced trial in mainland China because he sourced funding from there. “But we still lack an effective legal weapon to target those who source overseas funding to support Hong Kong independence movements, due to the lack of national security legislation in Hong Kong,” it said.
Beijing has not produced evidence that this funding exists, and independence for Hong Kong is not among the stated demands of the anti-government protest movement.
In April, the state security department in the southern city of Guangzhou said it had completed its investigation into Lee, who was arrested in late November. An official source in Guangdong told the Post that the Chinese authorities had “solid evidence in Lee’s case, and will announce it when necessary”.