The South China Morning Post devotes much of its front page to the revelation that something happened, but we don’t know what.
The story starts in August, when ex-senior bureaucrat and government supporter Fanny Law, wearing her Science Park figurehead-boss hat, visited the Swedish Karolinska medical institute’s branch at the Science Park ‘at short notice’ to discuss ‘research progress’. She then flew to its HQ in Stockholm. So far, so shrug-worthy.
The twist comes in comments soon after from the Karolinska boss – anguished statements defending the Institute’s academic freedom, and what seems to be an implied threat to pull out of Hong Kong. Sweden’s local consul (one Helena Storm, no less) has also weighed in. Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam then wrote some groveling plea to the Swedes, assuring them of the city’s total respect for academic autonomy.
There is no mention of what Fanny actually said that might provoke such a response. But the background offers some tantalizing clues about what sort of murk could lie beneath this.
The Institute’s Hong Kong branch arose from a HK$400 million donation from property scion and Hong Kong government supporter Lau Ming-wai. It specializes in reparative medicine and mentions strengthening links with Chinese scientists as part of its mission. To complicate the possible murk, the donation coincided with then-CE CY Leung’s kid being admitted to study at Karolinska. Both Fanny and the boy Wai-ming were allied to CY, and of course to Beijing.
(One other detail, possibly of no consequence: Fanny’s jaunt to Stockholm involved, among other things, briefing the Swedes on the Lok Ma Chau innovation/Shenzhen zone-hub scam-enigma, and – oh joy – the Greater Bay Area vision-scheme integration-mystery.)
Some more background, not in the SCMP story: the Karolinska branch in Hong Kong is particularly interested in stem-cell tech, RNA therapy, a cure for Parkinson’s, and other bio-tech. These are also big deals in the Mainland, receiving lots of policy backing. (Deng Xiaoping suffered from Parkinson’s, and Mainland scientists are at the forefront of using stem-cells from human embryos as a therapy.) One player in this is Mainland company CRMI (China Regenerative Medicine International), which happens to be another Science Park tenant.
What’s going on? It is wrong to speculate – but also great fun, so we can throw out some wild guesses. The Institute’s comments suggest that someone attempted to pressure it in some way about its research. Maybe someone tried to push them into ‘collaborating’ with other researchers, or maybe even to steer clear of a field from which a Beijing-connected rival hoped to profit. Or something else!
Lest we need reminding, there is some other broader background: this is 2017 Hong Kong; ‘One Country Two Systems’ and ‘high degree of autonomy’ are now officially over.