South China Morning Post: In the name of the fathers

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EXILED MAINLAND dissident Harry Wu Hongda has been getting personal over his fight to gain entry into Hong Kong. Refused entry upon arrival from Washington and deported on the first flight to the United States on Monday, he poured scorn on Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa and his family.

Whether the strategy works to boost American interest in his banning remains to be seen, but his supporters say it is likely to strike a chord with Hong Kong people. Others disagree. Family reputations are not the only issue at stake. Questions are being raised over Hong Kong's international image as a free and open society and the US State Department has raised concerns. While the Hong Kong Government refuses to reveal the reasons behind Mr Wu being barred, analysts believe Beijing feared the dissident was plotting to establish a base in Hong Kong for subversion across the border.

Soon after his return to Washington, Mr Wu held a telephone conference interview at the Foreign Correspondents Club in which he further attacked Mr Tung and his late father, Tung Chao-yung. He also spoke of his own family's mainland tragedy. "When the Red Army came to Shanghai, Tung [Chao-yung] ran away," Mr Wu said. "According to Chinese communist language, that means he betrayed the motherland. But then he was able to make money."

Mr Wu said his own father, who was a prominent banker and had known the elder Tung in Shanghai, had decided "under the passion of patriotism" to stay, but admitted before dying in 1980 that he had made the wrong decision. His son spent 19 years in labour camps, his wife committed suicide, and many other relatives became victims because of their "bourgeois" links, Mr Wu said. Mr Wu apologised for bringing up the elder Tung's "betrayal". But he insisted it was an historical event highlighting what he viewed as the hypocrisy of Beijing's relations with Hong Kong. Mr Tung has so far refused to comment on Mr Wu comments.

Mr Wu's plans to establish an SAR branch of his China Information Centre partly explains the Immigration Department's refusal to allow him entry. He was planning to establish the office with another dissident, Frank Lu Siqing, who lives in Hong Kong and runs the Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy. Mr Lu's one-man centre has been a leading information resource for local and foreign media, academics and diplomats on sensitive mainland issues. He has revealed a series of arrests of Falun Gong practitioners, detentions of various Chinese-American academics on spying charges, developments in the dissidents' network and the outbreak of bomb attacks on mainland cities.

Mr Lu said he believed their proposal to join forces had caused authorities to turn Mr Wu away. The US-based dissident has US$350,000 (HK$2.7 million) in US government funds to run his centre, another factor that is likely to have worked against him given restrictions in the Basic Law on foreign funding for local political groups. Mr Lu and labour activist Han Dongfang, both exiles from the mainland but who have been able to obtain permanent residency in Hong Kong, can be viewed as indicators of the degree to which any crackdown may be under way in the SAR.

Mr Lu said he was pessimistic about Hong Kong's future autonomy. "In the past year there have been many big changes. I think it is becoming more and more difficult to keep `one country, two systems' in future," he said. The Ministry of State Security, which is part of the mainland's intelligence-gathering apparatus, was becoming more active in Hong Kong, he said, but declined to provide further details. Mr Han, however, said he felt no personal pressure as a result of the decision to reject Mr Wu. "I still feel pretty comfortable here, nobody has come to me and said what I should do and not do," he said. But he said he was still disturbed by the reinterpretation of a Court of Final Appeal decision on the right of abode by the National People's Congress. Mr Wu last visited Hong Kong immediately before its return to Chinese sovereignty in 1997 but left before the mainland took over.

Two incidents in Mr Wu's career as a dissident have possibly marked him out in the eyes of the Beijing authorities. In 1991, he posed, along with Ed Bradley of 60 Minutes, as a wealthy businessman in order to get information on Chinese labour camps. Last year he gave evidence to a US congressional committee about the alleged harvesting of organs from Chinese prisoners for transplants. During Mr Wu's interview with reporters, Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor spokesman Paul Harris asked whether he believed he was denied entry because of his recent evidence about prisoners' organs. Mr Wu said no, saying the issue had been extensively reported in Hong Kong media before he started investigating.

Mr Harris, a barrister, said yesterday the chances of Mr Wu successfully making an appeal in court were low if the directive to bar him came from the central Government on grounds of national security. But his chances improved if the decision was made by SAR authorities. The Hong Kong Government has carefully tried to avoid the issue but at the same time has sought to give the impression it did not received instructions from Beijing. However, the origins of the decision remain obscured.

"Under the Basic Law, immigration is entirely a matter for the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government and we are not under pressure from the Central People's Government in any way," a government spokesman said. On Mr Wu's criticism of the Tung family, Mr Harris said: "While Mr Tung's father fled to Hong Kong and made a fortune, I think this is a very valid point and will strike a chord with Hong Kong people".

Businessman Lau Nai-keung, who is a delegate to the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, said authorities were aware Mr Wu had used disguises to enter the mainland previously. "Once he got into Hong Kong, he might very easily step into China," he said. It was inappropriate to criticise the Tung family's response to the communist takeover of the mainland, Mr Lau said. "A lot of people fled the mainland because the communists took over. They are not against the country, they were against communism. "Especially now, we have to distinguish between communism, the Communist Party and the Chinese Government. We identify ourselves as Chinese."

Professor Lau Siu-kai, a sociologist from the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said he believed the directive banning Mr Wu came from Beijing. "I think it is quite likely Beijing sees him as a security threat," he said. "Beijing sees him as someone who is going to cause trouble for China and undermine its international reputation by inciting foreign criticism and attacks on the Chinese authorities by the Western media."

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