Benny Tai Yu-ting (By 湯惠芸 via Wikimedia Commons)

Former Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying accused in a series of Facebook posts pro-democracy leader Benny Tai Yu-ting of supporting Hong Kong and Taiwan independence.

Benny Tai Yu-ting is an Associate Professor of the Faculty of Law at the University of Hong Kong (HKU) and a democracy activist who initiated the 2014 Occupy Central protests, which led to a massive popular movement known as the Umbrella Revolution.

Then-Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, backed by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), cracked down on the democracy movement. Benny Tai and other two pro-democracy leaders, Chan Kin-man and Reverend Chu Yiu-ming, face charges of inciting others to create a public nuisance, inciting others to incite more people to create a public nuisance, and of conspiring to create a public nuisance.

On his Facebook page, Leung Chun-ying accused Benny Tai of supporting not only Hong Kong independence, but also Taiwan independence, after the academic took part in a conference in Taipei in early April. At the event he said that Hong Kong might consider various options including independence in the event that China became a democratic country, Radio Free Asia reported.

“HKU Benny Tai refusal to clearly state his opposition to Hong Kong independence reveals that he is a hidden force [behind the movement],” Leung wrote. He criticized Tai for wanting to debate the reasons why the idea of Hong Kong independence developed and asked him to say whether he opposed Hong Kong and Taiwan independence.

Leung’s talking points are similar to those used by mainland Chinese media to criticize the Hong Kong professor.

State-run media outlet China Daily slammed Benny Tai in an editorial:

By wrapping his ideas with sacred words such as ‘democracy’, ‘freedom of speech’ or ‘academic liberty’, Benny Tai Yiu-ting, an associate professor of law at University of Hong Kong, has successfully cheated many young people into believing that the causes he has been advocating are noble ones and therefore worthy of devotion. He managed to motivate thousands of idealistic young people to participate in the illegal ‘Occupy Central’ campaign in fall 2014. A tragic result of such maneuvers is there for anyone to see: An army of youngsters have been radicalized, with dozens of them now suffering serious legal consequences including imprisonment for breaking the law.

Tai is trying to play the same trick again this time as condemnations come from various sectors of Hong Kong society after he was caught red-handed peddling secessionism in Taipei. He is using the cover of ‘freedom of speech’ again, assuming other people can be fooled for a second time. But who does he think he can trick into believing that pitting 7 million Hong Kong residents against 1.3 billion people of the mainland is warranted by freedom of speech?

Another China Daily editorial accused Tai of committing “treasonable offenses” and “sedition”. On April 3rd pro-Beijing protesters demanded that HKU sacked Benny Tai for his comments in Taiwan, one of various attempts by anti-democratic forces to that effect.

Sedition and treason laws have played an increasingly important role in Beijing’s crackdown on pro-democracy movements. By accusing someone of committing such crimes by simply exercising free speech even in an academic setting, the Communist government is sending a clear signal to Hong Kong society.

Although his career began in British Hong Kong, Leung Chun-ying has cultivated ties to Communist Party officials since the late 1970s. After studying surveying at Hong Kong Polytechnic and earning a degree in real estate management at Bristol Polytechnic, Leung returned to Hong Kong in 1977.

Under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping, China had by then launched its market reform drive. The country needed the expertise of land surveyors. As a member of the British real estate consultancy firm Jones Lang Wooton, Leung helped the Chinese authorities draft legislation to regulate the private ownership of land. He also joined the Association of Experts for the Modernization of China, an organization that advised Chinese mainland officials on issues such as urban planning, land auctions and property rights. In 1988 he was appointed as secretary general of the Basic Law Consultative Committee tasked with preparing Hong Kong’s handover to China.

However, after the 1989 Tiananmen Square Incident, Leung distanced himself from the Communist leadership.

“I strongly condemn the Chinese Communist Party’s slaughter of Chinese people,” Leung wrote shortly after the event. Later he co-signed an open letter condemning the massacre. In July of that year he said in an interview that the was “shocked” by the Communist government’s actions.

But as the Chinese economy developed and new opportunities arose, Leung soon forgot about the Tiananmen incident and fell back in line. In 1990 Zhu Rongji, then mayor of Shanghai, briefed Leung on the city’s development and asked him for advice on housing issues. In 1993 Leung founded his own surveying company, real estate consultancy CY Leung & Co. In 2000 the firm merged with DTZ, a London-based global real estate adviser. But business did not go well and in 2011 he left the company he had created.

According to the Sidney Morning Herald, DTZ was in dire straits because its operations were losing money everywhere except for mainland China. The Australian firm UGL took over DTZ and agreed to pay Leung HK$50 million.

Leung’s financial reliance on mainland China and the Communist regime’s patronage has become all the more evident after he stepped down as Chief Executive.

On March 13, 2017, Leung was elected as vice chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, China’s rubber stamp legislature. On August 31 he was appointed as a director of two companies that are related to the “Belt and Road” and “Greater Bay Area” initiatives, both of which he helped promote as Chief Executive.

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