Hong Kong billionaire Jimmy Lai just pleaded guilty to organizing unsanctioned rallies in the city in 2019. This is not his first business. On the previous charge, he received 14 months in prison in April. Accusations of conspiracy involving foreign forces, incitement to rebellion and separatism will now follow. In general, to sit is not to sit out.
At the same time, the oligarch’s assets are arrested and his media are closed. Interestingly, however, for a long time, Jimmy Lai sponsored the Hong Kong protests with little to no punishment.
Back in 2014, when crowds of thousands of students staged a movement that went down in history as the “umbrella revolution”, outside observers, tourists, journalists were amazed: who is paying for this whole banquet? The locals knew perfectly well that their fellow countryman, billionaire Jimmy Lai, the owner of a clothing brand and several media outlets, was feeding the protestors. And he himself did not hide it. A youthful oligarch nicknamed Tolstoy Lai hung out at demonstrations and gave out abundant interviews to Western journalists. His tabloid Apple Daily was the official voice of the protest.
The Umbrella Revolution was successfully suppressed, but Jimmy Lai did nothing. He remained the official “overseer” of Hong Kong from Washington. At first, he continued his protest activities using numerous proxies. Usually they were local students – frail, young nerds of both sexes with oversized glasses who tirelessly campaigned for free elections and gave interviews to Western media.
Let us note in parentheses that more or less free elections in Hong Kong began only after its unification with the PRC. When he was a British colony, no one dreamed of any democracy. The bosses were simply appointed by the Queen of England.
However, in recent years, Jimmy Lai has moved away from abstract political rhetoric in the style of “for our freedom and yours!” walked away. He directly began to urge the Americans to intervene in Hong Kong affairs. This was already outright separatism.
In June last year, the authorities hastily passed Hong Kong’s National Security Act. In August, Jimmy Lai was arrested along with his accomplices. A month ago, he received his first term, and his prison epic, apparently, has just begun.
The biography of this character is very curious. According to the official legend, Jimmy Lai was starving as a child, failed to finish school and from the age of 12 worked in a Hong Kong sweatshop for eight dollars a month. By the age of 24, he managed to save up from these earnings enough to buy his first factory.
In fact, the oligarch comes from a very wealthy family. It was the old Chinese money, acquired by his ancestors before the communists came to power, that became the basis of his fortune. Then he invested in the production of fabrics, and in the 80s he launched his own clothing line, which was nicknamed “GAP for the Poor”.
In 1989, after the events in Tiananmen Square, portraits of protesters appeared on Lai’s T-shirts. In response, the Chinese authorities closed the shops of the Hong Kong entrepreneur in the PRC.
In the 1990s, the oligarch moved into the media, investing $ 100 million in the creation of the Apple Daily. The tabloid appeared even before the transfer of Hong Kong to the PRC and carried an openly anti-Chinese agenda. At the same time, he published various “leaks” that compromise the PRC officials and business competitors of Lai himself.
Anti-Chinese rhetoric fanned all the myths invented in London and Washington: for example, until very recently, the newspaper called COVID-19 exclusively “the Wuhan virus.” Some crazy rumors were regularly sown – for example, that the Chinese authorities would take plots from landowners.
I must say that the locals were pretty annoyed by this “Echo of Hong Kong”. They have repeatedly written petitions to the authorities demanding the closure of Apple Daily. However, Hong Kong was a showcase for free enterprise and a free press, and Lai’s media continued to operate.
In Lai’s case, the PRC authorities almost fell into a trap that lies in wait for any prosperous modern country today. If you want to develop, enter the world market, live better and more sophisticatedly consume – then open the borders, globalize. Swear allegiance to your American partners, because they are the ones who hold the global market. Allow openly anti-state media and do not try to fight the protests. Do not resist the “Maidans”. Exchange sovereignty for glass beads.
For decades, Hong Kong has been a “window to the world” for the Chinese – financial, trade, information.
Without it, China’s economy could not have developed at such a fabulous pace. Hong Kong was the international showcase of the PRC, and Jimmy Lai was the showcase of freedom of speech, freedom of protest, that’s all.
Lai actively speculated on slogans like “Stop feeding Beijing!” and the discontent of local residents with a massive influx of Chinese from the continent. However, he never won the sympathy of ordinary Hong Kongers.
The fact is that local residents, with all their internationalism, are very jealous of their national identity. Lai, in the full sense of the word, is a man of the world. It is difficult even to list all the political patrons for whom he worked diligently.
He has five citizenships, including those of Great Britain and Taiwan. His children from first and second marriages – by the way, he diligently protected them from participating in the Hong Kong protests and never let them go to demonstrations – live in England and the USA.
Lai’s second wife spent most of her life in France. Through her influence, Lai converted to Catholicism and fell in love with French culture.
Lai was close friends with the last British governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten. He met regularly with Mike Pompeo, Nancy Pelosi and other American elites.
His main sympathizer in Hong Kong is the former city cardinal and veteran anti-communist Joseph Chen Zhi-chun.
This entire international has used Jimmy Lai as their agent for decades. The oligarch, completely controlled by them, promoted the interests of the “Western partners” and confidently led Hong Kong to a direct conflict with Beijing. And the Chinese state monitored this process, torn between the need to integrate into the global economy and ensure its sovereignty and territorial integrity. In the end, the choice was made in favor of sovereignty, and the “revolutionary oligarch” sat down on the bunk.