The British Consulate General in Hong Kong has demanded a pro-Beijing newspaper retract its allegation that the consulate funded a pro-democracy institution led by a local scholar.
The Ta Kung Pao newspaper printed extracts on Monday from a letter received from the consulate demanding a retraction. In a rare move, the consulate then published the letter in full.
On August 29, Ta Kung Pao published leaked emails from the City University of Hong Kong public policy Professor Joseph Cheng. They claimed the consulate gave money to the New School for Democracy, where Cheng was a director and an honorary principal. The school, established in Taiwan, aims to promote democratic development in Chinese societies.
Esther Blythe, the UK’s acting consul-general at the time, sent a letter to the newspaper’s chief editor the following day saying that the story was “factually inaccurate and misleading.”
The letter said that the consulate was often approached by organisations with proposals for funding: “We routinely engage with a wide range of civil society groups and academics in Hong Kong in order to better inform our own understanding of local views.”
“The New School for Democracy submitted a request for funding of their organisation totalling HK$2,156,164 in 2012-13, to which the emails you published refer, however the bid was unsuccessful and received no funding from the UK government,” the letter said.
On 15 October, Chinese-language newspaper Ta Kung Pao published extracts of a letter from Acting Consul-General Esther…
The letter also rejected Ta Kung Pao’s claim that the UK government funded a project titled “Non-violent Resistance Movement in China” totalling £56,800 (HK$585,823) in 2014.
“No subsequent bids for funding from the New School for Democracy, including the 2014 project concept referenced in your article, were considered by the British Consulate-General Programme Board,” it said.
“We request that your paper print a retraction of the allegations made on 29 August,” it added.
On Monday, Ta Kung Pao printed part of the letter and said that it proved that the New School for Democracy asked for money from the consulate.
The consulate said in response in a Facebook post on Tuesday that the letter published by the newspaper was only an extract: “In the interests of transparency, we are publishing the letter in full.”
Joseph Cheng confirmed the version of events stated in the consulate’s letter.
“My former assistant infiltrated into my organisation and stole my email,” he told HKFP. “Another assistant of mine applied for funds from the UK government – it was not approved.”
“The Ta Kung Pao report was very unfair – it used stolen emails and said we applied [for funds] and it was approved, but it never tried to contact us to confirm.”
He said New School for Democracy has, like other Hong Kong organisations, applied for funds from foreign foundations.
But Cheng said the Alliance for True Democracy and Power for Democracy, two other organisations he has ties with and who are accused of receiving foreign money, never applied for foreign funds.
HKFP has reached out to Ta Kung Pao for comment.