Hedge fund manager in "Occupy" column spat

A decision by the Hong Kong Economic Journal to cancel Edward Chin's weekly column after nine years has highlighted the tensions in the city.
Pro-democracy protest on Sunday
Pro-democracy protest on Sunday

A decision by the Hong Kong Economic Journal, one of the city's most read business newspapers, to cancel the column of a local hedge fund manager with pro-democracy views comes at a time of rising political tension with Beijing.

Edward Chin, who has written his weekly Chinese language column for the past nine years, was told it would be cancelled due to a redesign of the HKEJ — an explanation Chin contests.

According to the HKEJ — which is majority-owned by Richard Li, son of Li Ka-shing, Asia’s richest man  — Chin’s half-page columns became too focused on his political views rather than investment views.

“We had a discussion months ago and I told him if he continued to write on his political views we would move him to Section A [which deals with broader stories],” Alice Kwok, editor-in-chief of HKEJ, told FinanceAsia.

These views include support for Occupy Central, the movement that is set to block Hong Kong’s finance district any day now.

“He didn’t change. In six months he didn’t mention finance, only Occupy,” Kwok said.

The move comes at a highly sensitive time for Hong Kong and for freedom of the press, with the Chinese government announcing on Sunday that it would not allow the city to freely appoint its own chief executive from 2017. Instead, it said it would pre-approve a small pool of candidates from which the next leader would be chosen.

Beijing's announcement sparked anger from pro-democracy advocates, including the Occupy Central movement.

Occupy Central, backed by Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai, aims to block the financial district by staging a sit-in protest just yards from the Asian headquarters of Citi and HSBC. The protests could begin within days. 

Chin is a hedge fund manager based in Hong Kong. He was previously country head of Man Investments, one of the world's largest hedge fund managers by assets under management. Chin was also former head of Asia at Refco Alternative Investments.

He also is organiser of the finance and banking professionals who support Occupy Central.

Chin told FinanceAsia he feels strongly that his column was cancelled purely because of his political views rather than as a result of an editorial redesign.

“In our meeting six months ago I made it clear that a column is based on a columnist’s views,” Chin said. “And what is prescient right now is the future of Hong Kong and fair play,” he said.

When asked whether Chin would have kept his job if he had stopped his political tone, Kwok declined to comment.

Highly critical

Chin’s columns pulled no punches in terms of supporting pro-democracy groups, while criticising the Chinese government and CY Leung, Hong Kong’s chief executive.

In his most recent column, Chin voiced concerns over Hong Kong’s cooperation with Beijing, which he warned could lead to trouble in the future. 

“We are dealing with people who have no morality,” he wrote. “Hong Kong is full of robbers/bandits on the street. Only Hong Kong people can save Hong Kong's future. And if the international community isn't aware of what's going on in the city, the mighty will only be more unscrupulous”.

In April, Chin (pictured below) and other financial professionals wrote a letter to Xi Jinping, calling on China’s president to stop meddling in Hong Kong’s affairs.

Kwok told FinanceAsia the HKEJ respected his freedom to write about his political views and that she did not object for a lengthy period.

She said there had been no pressure put on her to stop the column and that it was purely a journalistic decision, with at least five journalists moved during the revamp.

The Independent Commentators’ Association, a Hong Kong group advocating freedom of speech, said it was concerned by the timing of the move.

“Given the timing is very close to when the Occupy Central might kick off. This coincidence could be easily linked with political censorship,” it said in a statement.

Editorial motives are typically difficult to discern but the timing is hugely sensitive and follows recent moves by other local press to clamp down on anti-Beijing coverage.

Last month, the home of media tycoon Jimmy Lai, a vocal critic of Beijing, was raided. Lai is owner of the Apple Daily newspaper and a supporter of the Occupy Central movement.

Meanwhile, in January Kevin Lau, then chief editor of Ming Pao, was abruptly removed without warning and was later stabbed in Sai Wan Ho, Hong Kong. There has been speculation the attack was a result of published articles about the business affairs of mainland figures but a motive has not been established.

The HKEJ was founded in 1973 and claims to be the city’s first newspaper devoted to financial affairs.

“[The cancelling of my column] is Beijing’s influence effecting freedom of expression,” Chin said.

“Loud and clear, it is nothing to do with what he wrote,” said Kwok.

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