The acting president of the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC) said the club pays “quite a substantial rent” for its Central premises, contrary to claims by former chief executive Leung Chun-ying.
Leung wrote an open letter to the club’s acting president Victor Mallet on Saturday, saying he was “gravely concerned” about the FCC inviting independence advocate Andy Chan to speak. The letter also mentioned that the government leased Central’s Ice House Street building to FCC “at a token rent,” which Mallet denied.
“As far as I’m aware, we actually pay quite a high rent compared to some other clubs in Hong Kong,” Mallet told HKFP. “And we are also responsible for the upkeep of this historic building that we rent from the government, so this is not actually a ‘token rent’ – that is definitely not the case.”
HKFP first reported last Friday that a representative from the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Hong Kong had attempted to block Chan from speaking at FCC. Besides Leung, Chief Executive Carrie Lam also weighed in on Sunday, saying that the invitation was “inappropriate” and “regrettable.”
Former FCC board member Francis Moriarty wrote on Facebook that Leung was “dead wrong” about the lease agreement. He said that, before he left the board in 2015, the club was “paying in the vicinity of HK$550,000 per month” and was responsible for the building’s maintenance.
‘Politicise the process’
Chairperson of the Hong Kong Journalists Association Chris Yeung said on Monday that it was “troubling” that Leung broached the issue of the FCC’s lease in his criticism.
“It makes people worry that, in the future, there may be administrative measures during lease renewal… that take into account [the FCC’s politics]. This will politicise the process,” Yeung told RTHK.
Yeung said that the FCC’s motives for hosting the event were “simple,” and the event was meant for foreign reporters to understand Hong Kong politics better.
In a new statement on Monday, the FCC reiterated its position that Chan will be allowed to speak.
“Hosting such events does not mean that we either endorse or oppose the views of our speakers, who have included senior officials of the Chinese, Hong Kong and other governments as well as their opponents, and we will continue to welcome speakers with widely differing points of view in the future,” the statement read.
“The FCC believes its members and the public at large have the right – and in the case of journalists, the professional responsibility – to hear the views of different sides in any debate,” it added.
The club’s decision to stand by its original invitation to Chan drew criticism from pro-Beijing factions over the weekend. Ngan Po-ling, a Hong Kong deputy to the National People’s Congress, told Wen Wei Po that the event was “outrageous” and disrespectful of Hong Kong’s legal system.
Ngan also said that the event was a breach of professional standards for journalists and should be banned.
Pro-Beijing newspapers Wen Wei Po and Ta Kung Pao both ran editorials condemning the FCC for hosting Chan, with Ta Kung Pao comparing the situation to a Western institution inviting ISIS leaders to speak.
Last month, the police told the government that there was a sufficiently strong case in the interests of “national security, public safety, public order, protection of freedom and rights of others” for the security secretary to ban the Hong Kong National Party, citing the Societies Ordinance.
On July 17, Chan was asked to respond to a 900-page dossier, which contained 700 pages of his speeches and events collected by police over two years.
Clarification 18.10: A previous version of this article referred to “leasehold land and buildings” included in the FCC’s financial report – however, the figure related to premises other than the club’s Central building.