China Accuses Journalist of Espionage

By Philip P. Pan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, May 31, 2005

The Chinese Foreign Ministry accused the chief China correspondent for Singapore's Straits Times newspaper of espionage on Tuesday in the government's first public confirmation of the detention of the prominent Hong Kong-based journalist.

In a brief written statement, the foreign ministry said the authorities detained Ching Cheong, 55, on April 22 for investigation "on suspicion of being involved in spying matters," adding that he had confessed to accepting payments for collecting intelligence.

"Ching admitted that in recent years he engaged in intelligence-gathering activities on the mainland on instructions from foreign intelligence agencies and accepted huge amounts of spying fees," the statement said. "Currently, relevant departments are investigating his spying activities."

The government provided no evidence to support its allegations, and Ching's wife, Mary Lau, has denied that her husband was a spy. She said Sunday that security agents detained him after he traveled to the mainland in an attempt to obtain a collection of interviews secretly conducted with Zhao Ziyang, the former Communist Party chief who was purged for opposing the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

"We are shocked by this new accusation," a spokeswoman for the Straits Times said. "As we have stated in our press statements, we have no cause to doubt that in all the years that Ching Cheong has worked with us, he has conducted himself with the utmost professionalism.

"Until we see incontrovertible evidence, we stand by our belief that he has always acted in the best interests of the Straits Times."

Ching is the second journalist employed by a foreign news organization to be detained by the government of President Hu Jintao in the past year. In September, authorities arrested Zhao Yan, a researcher in the Beijing bureau of the New York Times, and have been holding him incommunicado without trial since.

The foreign ministry's statement noted that Ching is a resident of Hong Kong, a signal the authorities are unwilling to offer him special protection because he is employed by Singapore's main English-language newspaper. Ching is a permanent legal resident of Singapore, but turned down a chance to become a citizen several years ago, his wife said.

The government did not specify which intelligence agencies it is accusing Ching of spying for, but used a phrase for "foreign" that could also include Taiwan.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company