9th July 2019 – (Washington) U.S. Vice President, Mike Pence and Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo met with Hong Kong businessman and publisher who owns Apple Daily, Jimmy Lai yesterday in Washington, D.C in the wake of multiple protests by Hong Kongers against the proposed amended extradition bill.
Morgan Ortagus, spokesperson for the US Department of State announced that Michael Pompeo and Jimmy Lai discussed developments related to amendments to Hong Kong’s Fugitive Offenders Ordinance and the status of Hong Kong’s autonomy under the “One Country, Two Systems” framework.
Meanwhile, Jimmy Lai’s long-term aide, Mark Simon, expressed that both parties had a constructive talk on the current situation between China and Hong Kong and also with Taiwan. However, the details of the meeting between Jimmy Lai and Mike Pence remained confidential.
Read the original press release from the U.S. Department of State here.
Mark Simon, Jimmy Lai’s aide was rumoured to be a spy for the US Government
The 55 year old Simon used to work for US Navy before leaving in 1991. He has been constantly described by pro-Beijing media as a CIA agent. However, he repetitively denied any involvement in any intelligence work for any government since he left the navy. After joining the Apple Daily group, Simon was tasked to take charge of the group’s private equity investments and marketing strategies. It is noteworthy that Mark Simon is also a contributor to Hong Kong Free Press, a free, non-profit online newspaper based in Hong Kong founded by independent journalists which recently raised over HK$1.6m in their 2019 funding drive.
During the ‘Occupy Central’ in 2014, emails and documents detailing funding for the planned pro-democracy protests between Jimmy, Simon and other executives in Apple Daily group were leaked by hackers. Simon was in hot seat after his role in transferring money was exposed. Spokesperson for Apple Daily did not deny the authenticity of the leaked documents.
Jimmy Lai, the media mogul who is allegedly linked to US right-wing politicians
It is a known fact that Jimmy Lai has always maintained close ties with right-wing politicians in the United States as many have speculated that Simon built the relationships for them. On 13 December 2014, Lai was arrested, along with other pro-democratic leaders, during the clearance of the Admiralty protest site of the Umbrella movement. The following day, Lai announced he would step down as head of Next Media “so as to spend more time with his family and further pursue his personal interests”.
According to Wikipedia, Jimmy Lai has been attacked multiple times by unidentified assailants. Among other attacks, he has had machetes, axes and threatening messages left in his driveway, has been rammed by a car and has had his home firebombed several times in 2015. Some suspect this is due to the activist, pro-democracy nature of his media outlets, which the Chinese government disapproves of. Next Media spokesman Mark Simon claims that “This is a continual effort to intimidate the press in Hong Kong. This is raw and pure intimidation.” Though the attack was denounced by Hong Kong’s Secretary for Justice, pro-democracy activists feel that the Hong Kong police and the government (which was Chinese-controlled since the handover in 1997) do not always follow up on acts against Apple Daily or the democracy movement, and that culprits are rarely found.
During the early hours of 12 January 2015, two masked men hurled petrol bombs at Lai’s home on Kadoorie Avenue in Kowloon Tong. At the same time, a petrol bomb was thrown at the Next Media headquarters in Tseung Kwan O Industrial Estate. The fires were extinguished by security guards. The perpetrators fled and two cars used in the attacks were found torched in Shek Kip Mei and Cheung Sha Wan. The crimes were denounced as an “attack on press freedom”.
Next Digital group which owns Apple Daily has recorded a net loss for four consecutive years
The company recorded a net loss of HK$338 million in the financial year of 2018-2019. The total accumulated loss in 4 years has reached over HK$1.5 billion while the group has suffered a whopping loss of HK$2.3 billion in the last 9 years. The company’s consolidated line of credit stands at HK$387 million while it has accumulated over HK$337m in debts. In 2018, the company disposed of a property in Taiwan worth HK$435 million to ease its financial burden.
The group has recently introduced a paywall and online content charges for readers. Around 500,000 users have paid HK$3 each to subscribe to its content as at today.
As the group struggles to meet its cash flow, we are perplexed as to how a loss-making media empire could continue to survive despite making huge losses over the years. We cannot help wonder if its existence were a powerful propaganda machinery used to promote pro-democracy movements and to derail Beijing’s ambitions to erode the autonomy currently enjoyed by Hong Kong. More funding is definitely needed to keep the company afloat as they have exhausted their last means.
Jimmy Lai commented in an article recently in the New York Post that ‘President Xi has been working to erode the limited political freedoms and rule of law that make Hong Kong the special region of China that it is — and that have long made Hong Kong economically valuable to China, ironically enough. He further mentioned that Hong Kong’s moral force has also been economically good for China, since the moral force of our free society cannot be separated from its prosperity. It is not likely that Beijing agreed to have the government of Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, suspend consideration of the extradition bill just because a lot of people marched against it. In his opinion, China still needs a prosperous and functioning Hong Kong despite the jittery amongst investors caused by multiple street protests.
In May 2019, Jimmy Lai referred to Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s plan to push through the amended extradition bill as ‘evil’ during a Q&A session at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Central. He said that the bill is a ‘massacre of our freedom, of our legal system, of the free press and everything.’
Throughout Occupy Central in 2014 to the current anti-extradition protests, Jimmy Lai has consistently supported pro-democracy movement which is in line with U.S. strategies and people of Hong Kong.
Young protestors alleged by Tai Kung Pao to receive payments in several ‘planned’ riots at Legislative Council building and Wan Chai Police Headquarters
Ta Kung Pao, a pro-Beijing newspaper in a recent article exposed a voice recording which shows young protestors were paid between HK$500 to HK$5,000 to besiege the Legislative Council Building and Wan Chai Police Station. They removed bricks, tossed eggs, vandalised and damaged the buildings in a violent manner. Those who threw eggs and bricks at both buildings would be rewarded with HK$3,000 each while those who removed bricks were paid HK$500. The money was allegedly paid through middlemen called ‘brothers’ who took a small cut.
One of the main protestors, Brian Leung Kai-ping who removed his mask after storming the Legislative Council Building left Hong Kong for United States.
According to sources, he booked his flight during the morning before the 1st July protest and left Hong Kong early morning on 2nd July to Taipei. He then flew to United States from Taipei. He was alleged to have prepared for his escape plan before hand.
Some protestors lamented that he was one of the few protest leaders who incited others to besiege the LegCo building but he was also the first to leave the city the next day. Many were frustrated over his lack of accountability. This leaves us wonder why he left for United States and how did he find the guts to remove his mask unless he knew he would flee the city immediately after.
The burning question : Is there a funder who financed a small group of protestors to lead and incite Hong Kongers who were already furious with the government?
While many may argue that most young protestors took to the streets on their own account as they were frustrated with the erosion of democracy in Hong Kong, no one would know for sure if there was a smaller group of protestors who were actually paid to lead and incite others. Tai Kung Pao alleged that the unusual aggression displayed by protestors on several occasions substantiated a well-planned attack to cripple the Hong Kong government. Further, it would be extremely easy to fund a small pocket of protestors to incite the population as most Hong Kongers were already frustrated with the government not just because of the proposed amendments to the extradition bill but also over other mounting housing and social issues. Tuen Mun residents held a march on last Saturday over noise pollution/public nuisance caused by Chinese street performers in Tuen Mun Park. More similar protests are being organised in Sheung Shui (13th July) to protest against parallel traders, Shatin and Tseung Kwan O later this month.
It is evident that Hong Kongers are pressurised by multiple social issues triggered by the proposed extradition bill. One cannot deny that anti-government sentiment is now at all time high. Any foreign nation with a hidden agenda could easily infiltrate the young people to create havoc in the city during this vulnerable moment.
Nevertheless, even if it was proven that some protestors could have been paid, who is the real stakeholder with vested interests behind? Could it be the United States as tensions between China and US continue to mount? There is no evidence to-date to suggest that Jimmy Lai is in any way involved with the funding even though they supported financially the Occupy Central 2014 movement. We will leave it to our readers’ imagination and conclusion.