China: Hong Kong-based reporter was a spy

Hong Kong-based reporter for Singapore's Straits Times newspaper, who has been in custody in &to=http:// ' target=_blank>China for more than a month, was a spy for foreign agencies, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday.

Ching Cheong was detained by agents of the state security apparatus on April 22 in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, his wife, Mary Lau, said on Monday.

"Ching admitted that in recent years he engaged in intelligence gathering activities on the mainland on instructions from foreign intelligence agencies and accepted huge amounts of spying fees," the ministry said in a statement.

"Currently, relevant departments are investigating his spying activities," the statement said without elaborating on which country or countries were his paymaster.

Ching, 55, is the second employee of a foreign news organization taken into custody by President Hu Jintao's government in a year. New York Times researcher Zhao Yan was formally arrested last October for revealing state secrets, a crime which carries a maximum sentence of death. The secret was believed to be the news that former leader &to=http:// ' target=_blank>Jiang Zemin was retiring from politics, informs ABC News.

According to the Times Online, the authorities are worried that Zhao’s inside knowledge of the decision to order troops to open fire on the 1989 demonstrators in Tiananmen Square might become public. The leader opposed the use of military force to suppress the pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989. Untold hundreds died when troops moved in to break up the student-led demonstration. Zhao, who died in January, was deposed as general secretary and spent the rest of his life under house arrest.

"I think he was set up," Mrs Lau said. The maximum penalty for selling state secrets is death.

Mr Ching had been covering China for 31 years and had many government contacts. He worked for 15 years for Wen Wei Po, a Hong Kong newspaper with close ties to the Communist Party, but resigned after the 1989 crackdown.

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