Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Szeto Wah Recalls "Operation Yellow Bird"

Right after the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre, the good people in Hong Kong took action and spontaneously launched a daring plan code named "Operation Yellow Bird" -- rescuing the movement leaders who were on the run on mainland and took them to Hong Kong via underground and pirate channels. Till this day, the real inside story of the operation is still in secret, as most of its participants chose silence.

After the death of Mr. Szeto Wah, the chairman of a Hong Kong alliance to support democracy for 21 years, the newspaper Ming Daily broke with a lengthy interview they had conducted with "Uncle Wah" last October in his hospital. The interview reveals a few details of the Operation Yellow Bird.

Szeto Wah recalled the experience they had in rescuing Wuer Kaixi and Chai Ling:
Wuer Kaixi, the story of his leaving Hong Kong is: after June 4, a man came looking for me, a foreigner. He introduced himself as a Portuguese policeman. He produced two photos, one is Wuer Kaixi and another is himself with Wuer Kaixi. He said, Wuer Kaixi is now at Zhuhai. You must find a way to help him.

Since he has the photo as proof, I immediately got phone number from him and then informed the person in charge. I offered 200K (HKD) for him to go pickup Wuer Kaixi. The first try, I kept in touch with him. The wave was too huge, he couldn't reach the shoreline, but he still demanded the 200K. The second time, he said there were soldiers nearby, he couldn't make contact. And he still charged 200K. The third time he was successful. I remember that he was in the Holiday Inn. I dispatched Li Yongda with 600K currency and made the exchange. Wuer Kaixi flew to France the next day. I never got to meet him.

In the entire operation, I have the deepest impression with the cases of Wuer Kaixi and Chai Ling. Chai Ling came over by boat herself, with Feng Congde and another person. They came ashore and called the student association at Chinese University to look for me. She said "I am Chai Ling, I have arrived at Hong Kong." I immediately dispatched Zhang Wenguang to get her. I then informed the French Consulate and took her to the home of the French consul. I also informed our government. Finally, we got plain tickets for them and they left the next day.
Szeto Wah summarized the whole experience as:
The whole operation was a great success. We counted that the number of people we rescued or helped to about 400 to 500. We only failed once, that was for Wang Juntao and Chen Zimin. It was not our fault. It was because a friend of Wang Juntao's betrayed him. Two of our people got arrested. We provided each with 500K compensation.
The money used in the operation was donated by Hong Kong residents:
We never made public the exact numbers. We have moved records to safe locations. The money used on the movement leaders did not come from the Alliance. All the expenses, including their arrival, room and board, daily expense, airfare, and their initial expense abroad, we covered them all.

I only look at numbers, I don't manage money. But some people when they donate, they ask me to receive it. It is perhaps because they trust me. All we receive are cash. Once I saw 600K, a suitcase full of notes. We spent quite some time counting them. Afterwards many democratic organizations apply for funds from us. We gave quite a bit to an organization in France, because they took a lot of the exiles. We paid for it, the first sum was 1,200K.

After June 4th, the big businesses did not donate money to us en mass. But there are people who would come with bags of cash silently. The man in charge of Operation Yellow Bird said that they had spent 30 million. Actually it was all our money. The most donation we received was from a celebrity concert. That single concert netted us 20 million. After that we did not do any large-scale donation drives. In 2008 we donated 780K to Sichuan [which suffered an earthquake]. We had a deficit that year. Then residents donated more than 1,100K. Our Alliance now still has 6 million.
According to Szeto Wah, the then British controlled local government had a tacit understanding with them. They allowed these exiles to stay in Hong Kong but asked to limit their local exposure. It was very difficult for the exiles to go to America, so most of them ended up in France instead. Some of them stayed at Hong Kong for months before going abroad. A few even remained in Hong Kong to this day, such as Han Dongfang.

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