China's new top Hong Kong envoy likely tasked to unite pro-Beijing camp

The new head of China's liaison office in Hong Kong, the most senior mainland official in the Asian financial hub, made his first comments to the media on Monday.
Mr Luo Huining, director of the central government's liaison office in Hong Kong, at a press conference in the city yesterday. Unlike his predecessors, Mr Luo is the first liaison office director to have never held a Hong Kong-related position.
Mr Luo Huining, director of the central government's liaison office in Hong Kong, at a press conference in the city yesterday. Unlike his predecessors, Mr Luo is the first liaison office director to have never held a Hong Kong-related position.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

His appointment also seen as sign of China getting tough on unrest in the city: Experts

The recent appointment of a top mainland official in Hong Kong is widely seen as a sign of Beijing's tougher stance towards Hong Kong, now struggling with its biggest political crisis.

And Mr Luo Huining is likely tasked to unite the very divided pro-establishment camp in the city.

Observers believe the appointment of the 65-year-old experienced politician as director of the central government's liaison office in Hong Kong is meant to iron out differences within the pro-Beijing camp in preparation for the Legislative Council election in September.

Said Associate Professor Alfred Wu from the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy: "Former liaison office chief Wang Zhimin was replaced partly because of last November's district council election where the pro-Beijing camp suffered a major defeat."

Prof Wu added: "What I think Luo can do is consolidate the pro-establishment camp and restore the relationship between (Chief Executive) Carrie Lam and the pro-Beijing heavyweights in Hong Kong."

The pro-Beijing camp suffered a stunning loss in the district council election, in which the pan-democracy group won by a landslide - nearly 90 per cent of the 450 seats.

The citywide election drew nearly three million people, or 71 per cent of registered voters - the highest turnout in Hong Kong electoral history - reflecting widespread discontent.

Prof Wu noted that Mrs Lam's move to roll out the extradition Bill had caused friction between the administration and pro-Beijing supporters.

This worsened over time as the unrest simmered and the November election results have further split the pro-establishment camp.

Prof Wu said: "The pro-establishment camp is divided and many have come out to criticise Carrie Lam, including Executive Council member Regina Ip."

UNIFYING ROLE

What I think Luo can do is consolidate the pro-establishment camp and restore the relationship between (Chief Executive) Carrie Lam and the pro-Beijing heavyweights in Hong Kong.

'' ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR ALFRED WU, from the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, on Mr Luo Huining, the newly appointed director of the central government's liaison office in Hong Kong.

Unlike his predecessors, Mr Luo is the first liaison office director to have never held a Hong Kong-related position.

His appointment comes less than a month after he was given a post in the Financial and Economic Affairs Committee of China's national legislature.

Before that, from 2016 to last November, he was the top party official in the northern province of Shanxi, where he was tasked with cleaning up a graft-ridden, coal-rich region where corruption was once likened to cancer.

Local reports say the reshuffle reflects Beijing's tougher stance towards Hong Kong, something Prof Wu agreed with.

In interviews with local radio stations Supercharged 881 and RTHK, Mr Lau Siu Kai, vice-president of Beijing's top think-tank on Hong Kong, believes that not having any experience in Hong Kong matters could be Mr Luo's strength.

Mr Lau, who is from the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, noted that given the new chief's background, Mr Luo will not be dragged down by interests and political organisations of the past.

Mr Lau said it would pave the way for Mr Luo to strengthen unity in the pro-establishment group.

"It is quite possible that Beijing wants someone with a good political status in China, as well as having a lot of experience in tackling political conflicts, to come over to Hong Kong to deal with the Hong Kong situation," Mr Lau said.

 
 
 
 

Speaking to the media on his first day in office yesterday, Mr Luo said he is confident that Mrs Lam's administration will correctly and fully implement the "one country, two systems" principle, together with China's Constitution and the city's Basic Law.

"They must ensure the 'one country, two systems' (principle) will be implemented steadily in the long term, and ensure Hong Kong maintains its prosperity and stability. I'm confident in this," said Mr Luo, the most senior political official to be installed in the city.

Describing his appointment as a new mission and a challenge, he said he is "no stranger to Hong Kong" and promises to do his best.

In his five-minute speech where he did not take questions, Mr Luo touched on Hong Kong's contributions to the opening up and modernisation of China.

"In the past six months, the situation in Hong Kong has been worrying. We hope Hong Kong can get back on track," he said.

Mr Luo takes over from Mr Wang, who exited after two years and three months.

Mr Wang was reported by local media to have close ties to the elite and the rich in the city.

The leadership change, which is the first since the unrest that has plagued Hong Kong for the past seven months, was announced last Saturday by Xinhua news agency.

Mr Luo, who was previously party boss of the western province of Qinghai and has a doctorate in economics, is known for enforcing Communist Party discipline.

His first job was as a steel worker in the eastern province of Anhui in the 1970s.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 07, 2020, with the headline 'China's new top HK envoy likely tasked to unite pro-Beijing camp'. Print Edition | Subscribe