10 January 2020
Luo Huining's appointment as Beijing's new representative in Hong Kong has caught most people in Hong Kong's political circles by surprise. Photo: HKEJ
Luo Huining's appointment as Beijing's new representative in Hong Kong has caught most people in Hong Kong's political circles by surprise. Photo: HKEJ

Establishment camp awaits meeting with new liaison office chief

The appointment of Luo Huining as China’s new point man in Hong Kong has come as a big surprise to everyone in political circles, given the fact that the new appointee, who replaces Wang Zhimin, has virtually zero experience in Hong Kong and Macau affairs.

Some believe the installation of Luo, who had served as the Communist Party secretary of Shanxi and had been tasked with cracking down graft and other ills in the coal-rich province, as the new liaison office chief is a sign that Beijing wants a tighter grip on Hong Kong, which had been wracked by anti-government protests over the past seven months.

According to sources, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor is scheduled to meet with Luo at her official residence on Thursday or Friday this week.

On Tuesday, speaking to reporters ahead of a regular weekly Executive Council meeting, Lam said she will work closely with the liaison office to help Hong Kong return to “the right path”.

“I would work closely with director Luo in the coming future, committing to ‘one country, two systems’, and the Basic Law, for Hong Kong to … return to the right path,” Reuters news agency quoted Lam as saying.

Luo served as the party secretary in Shanxi, and prior to that also in Qinghai, until his retirement at the age of 65. He has never held any position either in the diplomatic circles or in branches responsible for Hong Kong and Macau affairs during his political career.

Hence, his out-of-the-blue appointment as the new Liaison Office director has thrown everyone in Hong Kong’s political circles off guard.

A person who is in the know of things has observed that Wang left Hong Kong “in haste”, moving out even before the official announcement of his removal from the key position was made by Beijing. There was no farewell reception whatsoever.

It is said that the ousting of Wang was carried out with the utmost secrecy so much so that many senior brass in the Hong Kong government only learned about it after the media carried the news.

Besides, there is another reason why Beijing’s choice of Wang’s successor was so surprising: last year, there was chatter in the political circles that even if Wang had to step down as a result of the anti-extradition bill saga or the crushing defeat of the pro-establishment camp in the District Council election, the replacement would likely be an incumbent deputy director, Chen Dong.

However, as it turned out, Beijing preferred to appoint an outsider to head the liaison office rather than promote one of the deputy directors. No wonder many in the Hong Kong government were stunned by the news.

As Luo has taken office, the focus of public and media attention has now shifted to the expected exchanges between the liaison office and the Hong Kong government.

It is understood that Lam already spoke with Luo over the phone last Saturday, when Beijing announced his appointment as the new chief of its representative office.

Meanwhile, arrangements are said to be made for Luo to meet up with Lam at the chief executive’s official residence this week, rather than have Lam go to the liaison office in Sai Wan for the meeting.

Such approach is aimed at preventing a negative impression among the public as to the power equations within the establishment.

And as always, the meeting is going to be held behind closed doors, after which the government will issue a press release on the topics of discussion between Luo and Lam.

By coincidence, members of various social sectors in Hong Kong will very soon have an opportunity to interact with Luo face to face, as the liaison office will hold a Spring Festival Reception next Wednesday.

Some pro-establishment figures who have planned to attend the reception have pointed out that they didn’t initially have any special expectation in relation to the annual gathering.

However, given the recent dramatic turn of events, they are now eagerly awaiting the event, where the new liaison office director will deliver a speech, the sources said.

Attendees will pay close attention to Luo’s words in a bid to glean any new instructions the central authorities may have for the establishment camp, the people added.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan 7

Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Columnist of Hong Kong Economic Journal.