Ching Cheong formally arrested and charged with spying

After months of house arrest in Beijing, Ching Cheong, chief China correspondent for The Straits Times, has been formally arrested as a spy for Taiwan. China hands see it as further proof that the CCP wants to retain an iron-fist grip on the media (as if we didn’t know).

China said Friday that it had formally arrested a Hong Kong-based newspaper correspondent on charges of spying for Taiwan, the latest in a series of signs that China is tightening controls on the media.

The arrest of Ching Cheong, who was detained April 22 in southern China and has been held incommunicado ever since, came in the same week that the Chinese government released a long list of new regulations limiting foreign investment in everything from book publishing to movie production.

The restrictions also coincide with a surge of local protests across China for reasons ranging from commercial disputes to environmental damage. But there has been no sign that they are centrally organized or pose an immediate threat to China’s political system.

“The government is increasingly worried about social instability and disruption of growth,” said Tom Doctoroff, the chief executive for greater China at the JWT Advertising Agency. “The government is clearly getting very concerned about the flow of information.”

The official Xinhua news agency reported Friday that Ching had been accused of taking millions of Hong Kong dollars, the equivalent of hundreds of thousands of American dollars, in exchange for gathering economic, political and especially military information for Taiwan since 2000. Ching was accused of passing on classified documents labeled “top secret” or “confidential” to Taiwan’s National Security Bureau, and of disguising his work by using an alias, Chen Yuanchun, assigned by the bureau.

Some very interesting opinions as to why Cheong was arrested back in April can be found over at ESWN.

Based on past arrests of journalists like Zhao Yan, I am immediately more suspicious of the accusers rather than the accused. Maybe there is more to this case than the others, some of which are downright embarrassing (like a life sentence for leaking Jiang’s speech a few days before its delivery date). We’ll be watching carefully.

The Discussion: 35 Comments

just a quick thought, and I’m not trying to be contentious for the sake of it, but why, if there is so much distrust of the official line, do we all assume that the earlier guy was jailed for leaking the speech.
couldn’t there easily’ve been some other reason – quite likely an even more absurd and trumpted up and unjustified reason, but other than the offical line, nevertheless?

August 5, 2005 @ 2:40 pm | Comment

Who knows? You never know with them when they arrest people, because it can be such an irrational process. The one certainty is they arrest people and send them to jail for long periods of time, often with little or no evidence/justification. Sometimes it’s almost as zany as North Koreans being carterd away for the rest of their lives because they were singing a South Korean pop song.

August 5, 2005 @ 2:45 pm | Comment

okay, I’m definitely being argumentative now: is there much evidence that people in china now get sent to jail for “crimes” almost as light-weight as whatever the chinese equivalent is of “singing a South Korean pop song”?
I think I agree with the point you’re getting at, that without proper accountability and a very weak rule of law etc, people can fall victim very easily to whims from those at the top. but I’m surprised to hear the south korean pop song analogy.

August 5, 2005 @ 2:56 pm | Comment

I cited the pop song analogy as an extreme example of arrest and heavy punishment for essentially no reason at all. I really do liken it to the life sentence for leaking Jiang’s speech a few days early. (And I believe that is the genuine reason, as the reporter has been interviewed by PEN and Reporters without Borders and didn’t tell them it wasn’t true.)

Anyway, I have to get some work done now or I will be in big trouble.

August 5, 2005 @ 3:01 pm | Comment

I think it’s safe to say that the burden of proof usually lies on the PRC government in cases like these. Their reputation for truthfulness makes W look like a saint…

August 5, 2005 @ 3:50 pm | Comment

Was WenHou Lee (Chinese scientist, former Los Alamos employee) ever convicted of espenage? How many years did he stay in an islated jail cell before he was finally set free due to lack of evidence? If there wasn’t enough evidence, why was he arrested the first place? Ironically, FBI had to apologize later for what they did to him and his family.

Sounds familiar now between the East and the West? or is the West still Saint?

August 5, 2005 @ 8:50 pm | Comment

Wen Hou Lee’s case was a terrible and unusual thing, but I don’t think he ever spent years in an isolated jail cell, and luckily we have rule of law where cases like his can be tried fairly and the wronged party can be released. China offers no such options.

He was also not a journalisty, but a scientist with access to secrets important to national security. The FBI screwed up for a while, and our judicial system ultimately worked. I have never, ever heard of our doing this sort of thing to a journalist. Have you?

August 5, 2005 @ 9:22 pm | Comment

Here is the Wikpedia article on Wen:

After an intensive forensic examination of Lee’s office computer, it was determined that he had backed up his work files, which were not classified at the time, onto tapes, and had also transferred the files from a system used for processing classified data onto another, also highly secure, system designated for unclassified data. With this in hand, the government then retroactively redesignated the data Lee had copied, changing it from its former designation of PARD (Protect As Restricted Data) to a new designation of Secret, giving them the crime they needed for a formal charge. During this time, Lee’s name was leaked to the media, and several politicians and news organizations (including the New York Times) assumed that he was a spy. Lee was arrested in December 1999 but freed in August 2000, after 278 days in solitary confinement, when he accepted a plea bargain from the federal government.

Wen Ho Lee pled guilty to one felony count of improperly downloading classified data. In return, the government released him from jail and dropped the other 58 counts of illegally downloading classified data from the computers at the Los Alamos weapons lab. Judge James A. Parker offered an apology to Lee for what he called “abuse of power” by the federal government in its prosecution of their case, while reiterating that Lee did plead guilty to a “serious crime.” Later, President Bill Clinton remarked that he had been “troubled” at the way Lee was treated.

So Lee did plead guilty to a felony. And then he was released. Hardly comparable to Ching Cheong!! He was mistreated, but we can’t compare what he went through to those journalists sentenced to life in jail for releasing a speech a few days early. And, finally, I suspect Wen’s jail cell was far more comfortable than those in China. Just a hunch.

August 5, 2005 @ 9:26 pm | Comment

Wen Hou Lee’s case was a terrible and unusual thing, but I don’t think he ever spent years in an isolated jail cell, and luckily we have rule of law where cases like his can be tried fairly and the wronged party can be released. China offers no such options.

He was also not a journalisty, but a scientist with access to secrets important to national security. The FBI screwed up for a while, and our judicial system ultimately worked. I have never, ever heard of our doing this sort of thing to a journalist. Have you?

Posted by richard at August 5, 2005 09:22 PM

—————

agree with the first part, but not sure that “China offers no such options.” things are moving towards that direction, recently a few cases were revised and those who are in charge are punished.

as for your second part, “I have never, ever heard of our doing this sort of thing to a journalist. Have you?”

richard, how about the italian journalist shot by american servicemen in iraq?

August 5, 2005 @ 9:30 pm | Comment

Bingfeng, the Italian reporter had nothing to do with the US judiciary. This is a great example of pulling out something totally extraneous. Her death was tragic and it may have been murder – I certainly don’t put that past the Bush military. But it can’t be compared to flaws in the US or Chinese judicial system when it comes to arresting reporters. She wasn’t arrested, she wasn’t involved in the judicial system and she wasn’t in America or China. The only reason you are bringing her name up is because she was a reporter. Her case in no way compares to that of Ching or Wen. No way.

August 5, 2005 @ 9:42 pm | Comment

Bingfeng, the Italian reporter had nothing to do with the US judiciary. This is a great example of pulling out something totally extraneous. Her death was tragic and it may have been murder – I certainly don’t put that past the Bush military. But it can’t be compared to flaws in the US or Chinese judicial system when it comes to arresting reporters. She wasn’t arrested, she wasn’t involved in the judicial system and she wasn’t in America or China. The only reason you are bringing her name up is because she was a reporter. Her case in no way compares to that of Ching or Wen. No way.

Posted by richard at August 5, 2005 09:42 PM

————

she knows something that CIA doesn’t want the world to know, that’s why she was killed.

August 5, 2005 @ 9:54 pm | Comment

You may well be right, BF. I don’t know. But nothing links her to the Ching or Wen cases. Absolutely nothing, except she wrote about news. Her death was not an instance of the US courts sentencing an innocent person to jail. Not in any way.

August 5, 2005 @ 10:04 pm | Comment

can’t deny the thought jumped unbidden into my head too, about all the reporters killed by the US troops in Iraq.
you’re right it doesn’t highlight a flaw in the US judiciary though, but perhaps in the military or the executive.

August 5, 2005 @ 11:32 pm | Comment

“Wen Ho Lee pled guilty to one felony count of improperly downloading classified data.”

What a joke, what an international joke! They basically forced him to admit something that has nothing to do with what he was originally charged to save “FACE” and to have a graceful way out. Who is perfect? He is not the only one downloading data inappropriately in the Lab. I seem recall at the same time one of the lab managers in Los Alamos took laptop home and went online with all the classified information on the computer. Whatever happened to him? I didn’t hear anyone go to jail for 278 days for that. It is all B.S. when it comes to human beings being just.

Admit it, human beings are only as good as can be. Descrimination is human nature, Wen Ho LEE is guilty of being a Chinese Scientist living in a white dominated society. That is what this whole Wen Ho Lee crap is all about. Scapegoating tool was used here for propagonda purpose. If a white scientist got picked on, that would not satisfiy the majority’s taste since majority is white. It had to be some kind of nationals. Same as the war of invading Iraq, 911 was a big blow to the US, to save face and to have something to calm the public, whack the dog. We might have managed to be fair in one occasion, but we are way out of whack the other.

Chinese has always been right in teaching the world that Yin and Yang will always be there to balance the whole universe.

August 5, 2005 @ 11:40 pm | Comment

Well, he didn’t have to plead guilty. It may have been about “face,” I’m really not sure. But our system did work, and it’s not a joke. A man was let go for unjust imprisonment, and our free media gave the case huge international attention. Let’s see if the CHing Cheong case is that open. No legal system is perfect and there are horrible flaws in the American system, not to mention out prison system. But to compare it to China’s, and to compare Ching and Wen’s case….please, don’t be absurd.

August 5, 2005 @ 11:54 pm | Comment

This is the first step to a face-saving way of releasing Ching Cheong. What I want to know is what is happening to his friends at CASS.

August 6, 2005 @ 2:09 am | Comment

If you’re talking about the Italian journalist who was kidnapped in Iraq and then rescued, she did not die; one of her rescuers, an Italian hostage negotiator/government official did. She was slightly wounded. It was one of the many “checkpoint” incidents in which American servicemen fired at a car they thought was suspicious – that’s the official story anyway. It was a roving checkpoint that had been put in place due to the arrival of Ambassador John Negroponte. Some people do believe that she was deliberately targeted. I personally do not. If she had been deliberately targeted, I believe she would have been killed, not wounded. After all, the car was fired upon by troops, then the car stopped and if these were assassins of some sort, why not just kill her then? My take is that it was a typical FUBAR – there have been far too many of these incidents in Iraq where innocent people have gotten killed.

Besides, frankly? I don’t think there’s anything she could have found in Fallouja that would have been sufficiently embarrassing to have the CIA kill her. What could be worse than Abu Ghraib? The truth is, the Bush Administration doesn’t care what the rest of the world thinks about stuff like that. I do believe, however, that they care somewhat about what their allies in the GWOT…er, I mean, the G-SAVE – the Italians – think. And that the targeted killing of such a high profile person, a rescued hostage, would be very bad PR indeed.

I think there have been other incidents where you could make a better case that journalists were deliberately targeted, but not this one.

August 6, 2005 @ 2:17 am | Comment

“richard, how about the italian journalist shot by american servicemen in iraq?”

Bingfeng:
I have to say sometimes your arguments are mere polemic.
First as Lisa already mentioned she was not killed. Second what has this to do with the elastic clauses that exist in China, where the definition of what is a state secret and what not is left to be defined by the judges.

August 6, 2005 @ 4:40 am | Comment

Chinese Queen:
“Ironically, FBI had to apologize later for what they did to him and his family.”

I don’t see the irony here.

“If a white scientist got picked on, that would not satisfiy the majority’s taste since majority is white.”

After Richard put your allegations into perspective you play the racist card. That’s allways a good sheet anchor, a killer argument particularly with people who are sensitive about the problem of racism. Have you any proof that the initial investigation had racist causes or is this just your blue print of the American society in general (or perhaps all Western societys)?

August 6, 2005 @ 5:02 am | Comment

Ching Cheong Charged With Espionage

[^] Remember Ching Cheong, the Straits Times journalist locked up in China over allegations of espionage? The Chinese authorities have finally decided to press formal charges against him. The blogosphere is beginning to pick up the buzz all over again,…

August 6, 2005 @ 5:03 am | Comment

I would say two things here:

First, China’s prosecution/Police services are not known for their attention to detail and good proceedures. Remember that guy who was jailed for life because he “murdered” his wife – who then appeared after 10+ years, as she’d just left him? The Police charged him despite the fact that there was no body, no murder weapon and no evidence. And somehow the judge still convicted him. If the British Police had taken someone to court on the same grounds, the judge would have thrown the case out immediately.

Second, “state secrets” in China is a very flexible term – it can mean almost anything, including information that is merely embarrassing to or uncomfortable for the CCP. Such as:

* The number of industrial deaths each year in China.
* The armed forces’ total budget (not subject to the Chinese Audit Commission’s remit).
* Information about the business dealings of senior CCP members.
* Other information that proves embarrassing for the CCP.

I know this because I posted a list like this on a Chinese newspaper forum when we were talking about censorship, and it was removed within five minutes by the mods. If these really WERE state secrets, and not just a pretext to keep certain information out of the public domain, they would have let it stay up.

Also read what Amnesty has to say:

http://web.amnesty.org/library/index/engasa170421996#SSP

Of course it is possible that he was spying. But the reason his wife says he went out there sounds all too plausible given the CCP’s paranoia over this issue – that he was there to get important information about Zhao Ziyang. Personally I bet it was to do with how he was illegally removed from office in 1989, or something else that would be damning for the CCP if exposed.

August 6, 2005 @ 8:44 am | Comment

Just in case you guys didn’t know, Zhao Ziyang was illegally removed from power – only the NPC had the legal power to dismiss him and there was no vote on it (I don’t think it was even in session). If Deng used his authority as head of the CMC to do it, then Zhao’s removal was even worse as it would have been effectively done through a military coup.

More info at wiki, plus a good reason why the CCP still says the student protestors at Tiananmen were criminals:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zhao_Ziyang

August 6, 2005 @ 8:53 am | Comment

When China starts producing science worth stealing I’m sure they’ll be as vigilant as the States was with Wen Ho Lee. It did seem like scapegoating, at the time, but state scientific secrets ARE state scientific secrets, and this applies to everyone. There was a member of the Senate who has been under investigation recently because he “borrowed” some classified Defense documents and took them home. Which is illegal. And he’s white, and was in the Senate.

That being said, there is a much greater chance that Wen Ho Lee “improperly downloading” documents would end up in China’s hands than in the Senator’s case, because, as we are all aware, that’s how it works with China. China asks their nationals to keep a look-out for technology that can further the cause of the Great Middle Kingdom, and the American spy agencies knew that. Which is why Wen Ho Lee was thoroughly investigated. China would have done nothing less (and probably a lot more…), nor would any other country have done anything less.

Finally, the FBI apologising means that they have the balls to admit that they were wrong. China seems to have problems doing the same.

August 6, 2005 @ 10:31 am | Comment

Oh, and if anyone thinks China does a good job of “Teaching the balance of Yin and Yang” please proceed directly to the Madhouse.

Short of that, go to my site and we can have a big ‘ol debate over whether it is possible to teach such a thing while being in the midst of it all. I say it is basically not possible.

I should say that the US doesn’t exactly teach anything balanced either. But China isn’t some philosophically and morally correct country. The government willfully disregards a host of ancient chinese wisdom, including just about everything to do with Yin and Yang. Actually I think it’s willfully misinterpreted too.

August 6, 2005 @ 10:35 am | Comment

Laowai: about “China asks their nationals to keep a look-out for technology that can further the cause of the Great Middle Kingdom”: pls see wikipedia on the biography of Wen-ho Lee:

Born in Nantou, Taiwan, Lee got his B.S. in mechanical engineering from Cheng Kung University. He received a Ph.D. from Texas A&M University in 1969. He became a naturalized citizen of the United States in the 1970s.

What has he got to do with ‘China’ other than he looks Chinese and has a Chinese name?

August 6, 2005 @ 10:43 am | Comment

Maybe the FBI needed Wikipedia. ;-0

All I remember about the event is that there was quite a furor around WHL’s possible China connection.

Interesting quote I picked up from transcipt from an MIT conference on the subject of WHL’s detention and scapegoating:

Panelist Philip Morrison, Institute Professor and professor of physics emeritus, characterized the sight of Wen Ho Lee, a “slight man in shackles,” as an image with political purpose whose roots lay in “Cold War I,” the 40-year US-USSR standoff that ended in 1986.

“One lesson I have learned is that there is no phenomenon of political life so important as war against a named power so that everything can be named a part of the Cold War. When an espionage story arrives on the front page, there is a deep political reason,” he said. “The spy story we saw, with all its baroque not to say barbarous elements, was there for political purposes.”

But the Lee case, he said, did not have to fuel Cold War II — a standoff between the United States and China like the one between the US and USSR — despite its potential for provoking anti-Chinese sentiment and policy.

“This is a long-term danger we must oppose. We don’t have to give in to this ‘mysterious enemy,'” Professor Morrison said. He also noted differences between US-Soviet relations and US-China relations that made a Cold War II scenario unlikely.

Panelist Vernon Loeb, national security correspondent at the Washington Post, described himself as a “representative of the press decrying press leaks. In Wen Ho Lee’s case, the leaks were damaging to him, to the nation, to the Department of Energy and to the national labs. Without the leaks, Wen Ho Lee would never have been charged with ‘faux espionage.’ No one in history had ever been charged with doing what he did. Under the pressure of the glare of publicity, the FBI could not add up facts and draw any conclusion other than espionage.”

August 6, 2005 @ 11:30 am | Comment

Oh – also:

There is only one China, remember? And Taiwan is part of that China. ๐Ÿ˜›

August 6, 2005 @ 11:31 am | Comment

LW,
What do you mean “when China starts producing worth stealing?”
Have you not read China’s most profound contributions to Social Science in the past 30 years? I mean, “The Three Represents!”
Doesn’t THAT count as science? I am still astonished by the wisdom and the, um, well the SCIENTIFICness-ic-ity of the Three Represents.
And then there was Mao’s Little Red Book.
So, please don’t dismiss the “Science” of the Communist Party so lightly! They are in the vanguard of “Science”, alongside Kim Jong Il

August 6, 2005 @ 6:29 pm | Comment

eswn: What has he got to do with ‘China’ other than he looks Chinese and has a Chinese name?

How can someone make so much sense with western ethics? I am awed.

August 6, 2005 @ 10:58 pm | Comment

what western ethics are you reffering to Chinese Queen?

August 7, 2005 @ 7:04 am | Comment

I’ve been watching this case for a while, not sure what the American
media said is true or not. Today I made an intensive research of news and
comment on this case. It seemed that I’ve got some hint.

Compared with the Hong Kong media which are independent from the
Chinese mainland authorities and often have bigger freedom and deeper
sources, the reports on New York Times and LA Times tend to give the readers a
“traditional” impression that Beijing is again prosecuting journalists
in order to control freedom of speech, therefore to “maintain
stability.” But the American media have missed some information that could have
given the readers a second thought.

According to the latest reports on a couple of Chinese-language Hong
Hong newspapers, sources said Ching’s arrest was not the result of
obtaining a speech transcript of the former Chinese Communist Party leader
Zhao Ziyang, who was sacked after opposing the Party’s decision to crush
the Tian’anmen protest in 1989. It is about a leackage case about
Beijing’s position toward its’ Taiwan policies.

I would asume everybody here has known the background info of the
mainland China and Taiwan. Beijing insists Taiwan is part of China since Mao
Zedong won the civil war in in 1949, whereas current Taiwan leaders,
decendents of the losing Jiang Kai-shek regime of the civil war, are
apparently leading the island toward a formal dependence as a soverignty.

One or two months ago before the much hyped “ice-breaking” trips of two
Taiwan opposition leaders visiting Beijing, Beijing suddenly found
Taiwan’s authority has somehow learnt about Beijing’s stance that it might
hold in negotiations with Taiwan. You know Beijing has repeatedly said
that it would mean war if Taiwan declared independence. So any move or
stratege of Beijing’s position in the recunification or war process is
considered top state secret.

Beijing was angry about the leackage and looked into this case. Two
officials of the Chinese Acadamy of Social Sciences who had access to the
state leadership’s meeting records were arrested, and Ching was tracked
down for obtaining files from the two and passed the info to Taiwan.

Hong Kong’s newspapers quoted anonymous sources as saying that Ching
might be “trapped” by Taiwan’s intelligence department. It’s said that
when Ching served as a correspondent of Strait Times to Taiwan in
1998-2000, he was also asked by some Taiwan media organizations to write
analytical stories about the Chinese mainland. Later when he went back to
Hong Kong, he was still asked to write reports that were “deeper and more
sensative.” But sources did not say why Ching continued to work for
Taiwan even though he realized he might be working for the Taiwan
intelligence.

I don’t think the Chinese authorities would fabricate a spy case just
to tighten the Hong Kong press’s boldness in freedom of speech. In this
case, if what the Hong Kong newspaper explained was true, Ching’s act
is certainly something about true state secret that should not be known
to Taiwan, an identity that might be at war with the Chinese mainland.

In regard of state secret versas freedom of press, China certainly has
different definition than the US. The arrest case of a Chinese citizen
who provided the information of Jiang Zemin’s resignition to the New
York Times is a good example. In the US, journalists are entiled the
right to reveal almost everything (except state secrets like declaration of
war). But in China, even info about the change of a new president is
top secret. Why? China’s state leader is not elected by the people, but a
few top guys in Beijing. Often it could be the result of political
struggles. Any transfer of power, if not treated carefully, might cause big
trouble to the Party and the country as a whole. What Beijing fears
most is that the West will try all means to bring down the communist party
leadership. One of the means is the speculation of the Western media in
possible political struggles everytime around the power transfer.

Although I admire Western journalists range of freedom, in the case of
revealing news about the president resignition to foreign media, an act
that is against existing laws, I’m reluctant to consider the Chinese
fellow a hero. At least he/she is not wise in sacrificing him/herself. I
only admire people like Dr. Jiang who exposed the real seriousness of
SARS when the authorities tried to cover it up in the beginning for fear
of panic. But certainly the real press freedom in China is a dear dream
to look forward to.

August 7, 2005 @ 1:25 pm | Comment

Gang, I’m interested in knowing what you perceive the western media’s take on this story is. I haven’t seen much coverage suggesting he is innocent or guilty. And he may well be guilty of something. Unfortunately, the CCP’s pathetic track record of arresting innocent journalists means alarm bells go off as soon as they arrest a new one. But I haven’t passed any judgement yet.

August 7, 2005 @ 2:29 pm | Comment

Comparisons to the Wen Ho Lee case are a complete red herring. Wen was investigated and charged. Wen was found to have improperly copied and stored classified documents. Wen pled guilty to one such count and was released.

Convinced that Wen, despite having actually broken some laws, was the victim of an overzealous prosecution, the presiding judge and the President of the United States each apologized to him.

I await the day that any official anywhere in china ever offers such an apology to anyone accused of such crimes.

Never gonna happen.

And as for racism, ask Richard Jewel or Stephen Hatfill if being white is any protection from oversealous prosecutors.

August 7, 2005 @ 10:46 pm | Comment

Conrad, the children making these accusations are too young to have ever heard of Richard Jewel. But of course, you’re right.

August 7, 2005 @ 10:58 pm | Comment

Richard, as I suggested, the Western media are not presenting the story
with complete information. Although they did not conclude if Ching is guilty or not, their use of quotes were leading readers to a conclusion that Ching was arrested just for doing his job – reporting.

I understand CCP’s record in treating press freedom has given us no reason
to be “fair” with any of its moves. But in this particular case, we’d better be cautious before we stand by Ching.

August 8, 2005 @ 8:47 am | Comment

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