China removes Hong Kong liaison office head Wang Zhimin amid protest movement

Hong Kong liaison office head Wang Zhimin is the shortest serving Liaison office director since 1997. The new liaison office head will be Mr Luo Huining (right). PHOTOS: EPA-EFE, AFP

SHANGHAI (REUTERS, AFP) - China has removed Hong Kong liaison office head Wang Zhimin, according to a Saturday (Jan 4) post on the official Weibo site of the Xinhua news agency.

The new liaison office head will be Mr Luo Huining, 65, who was semi-retired after being removed from his position as the secretary of the Shanxi Provincial Committee of the Communist Party of China.

Hong Kong has been battered by protests for seven months, which from time to time fell into violent clashes between protesters and riot police.

The demonstration was first triggered by a proposal to allow extraditions to mainland China. It has morphed into a larger revolt for democratic freedom and against China's control over the semi-autonomous city.

Ordinarily, communications between Beijing and Hong Kong are conducted through a Chinese government body: the Liaison Office of the Central People's Government in Hong Kong.

Mr Wang was the most senior mainland political official stationed in Hong Kong, and is the shortest serving Liaison office director since 1997.

Reuters reported exclusively in November that Beijing was considering potential replacements for Mr Wang, in a sign of dissatisfaction with the Liaison Office's handling of the crisis, the worst since the city reverted from British to Chinese rule in 1997.

Saturday's statement gave no other details on the change.

The Liaison Office, which reports to China's State Council, serves as the platform for Beijing to project its influence in the city, and has come in for criticism in Hong Kong and mainland China for misjudging the situation in the city.

Mass protests erupted in June in Hong Kong over an extradition Bill that would have allowed individuals to be sent for trial to the mainland, where justice is controlled by the Communist Party.

Though the Bill was withdrawn, protests have continued over a broad perception that Beijing is meddling improperly in city affairs and complaints of police brutality.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said in a statement that the Liaison Office would continue under Mr Luo's leadership to work with the Hong Kong government for the "positive development" of the relationship between the mainland and Hong Kong.

She added that Mr Luo's predecessor had provided "staunch support" to the Hong Kong government's efforts to curb violence and uphold the rule of law during the unrest of recent months.

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