BEIJING // An interpreter for the Chinese president, Hu Jintao, was executed for divulging the content of conversations between the president and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il to South Korea, a Hong Kong newspaper reported.
The Apple Daily said on Wednesday that Mr Hu's interpreter, Zhang Liucheng, was found to have worked as a spy for South Korea, and was subsequently executed, citing a report in External Reference, a monthly publication edited by He Pin, a prominent US-based dissident and expert on Chinese internal political affairs. Mr Zhang "revealed confidential conversation records between Hu Jintao and Kim Jong-il", according to the article.
But some China analysts disputed the credibility of the report. Lu Chao, a Chinese expert on North Korea at the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences "I often find [Apple Daily's] reports lack credibility. It's likely the same this time," said . One South Korean analyst said Mr Zhang had in fact been executed, but that he had been killed several years ago.
But Yang Moo-jin, an expert on East Asian security at Seoul's University of North Korean Studies, pointed out that a death sentence for espionage is rare in China. Koh Yu-hwan, a professor of North Korea studies at Seoul's Dongguk University, added: "If the report of the execution were true, then there might be other reasons we don't know yet." The report came at a sensitive time for China, which has been the target of international criticism for shielding North Korea from sanctions for its sinking of a South Korean navy ship in March.
The news of the alleged execution drew considerable media attention in South Korea. While China's state-controlled media are silent, news of the report is spreading on Chinese blogs and web forums in such major portals as Sohu.com and China's largest online discussion forum, Tianya. Media outlets in Hong Kong are freer than those on the mainland as Beijing offers more liberty to Hong Kong's media in its "one country, two systems" policy.
Mr Zhang served as the deputy director of the Koreas Division at the International Department of the Communist Party of China. The department is the primary body in China that handled the logistics of Mr Kim's visit to China. Mr Zhang was not the translator in the summit between Mr Hu and Mr Kim in May. Mr Hu became "furious" about the incident, the Apple Daily report said, but because of the sensitivity of the issue, and to keep China's relationship with South Korea on an even keel, Beijing carried out Mr Zhang's execution in secret.
Mr Zhang was arrested during an ongoing anti-spy operation by the ministry of public security - named Operation Spring Sunshine - which primarily deals with counter-intelligence activities by Japan, South Korea and the North, the report said. The operation has previously uncovered other cases of espionage by China's neighbours. These include Li Dunqiu, a researcher with the State Council, China's government cabinet, who reportedly handed over state secrets to North Korea.
In another case in 2007, Wang Qing, a colonel with China's People's Liberation Army, was executed for selling military secrets to Japan, Apple Daily reported. In the same year, Yu Jiafu, the foreign affairs bureau chief at Xinhua news agency, was arrested by the state security agency for distributing state secrets to Japanese and South Korean diplomats. firstname.lastname@example.org