China replaced its top liaison official for Hong Kong, signaling Beijing’s growing frustration with pro-democracy protests that have dragged on for months.
Luo Huining will take over from Wang Zhimin as the Hong Kong liaison office director, the government said in a two-sentence statement that didn’t elaborate on the changes in the semi-autonomous financial hub.
The new official served as Shanxi party secretary from 2016 until November, and became deputy chairman of the financial and economic committee of the National People’s Congress a month later.
“Luo’s appointment probably signals a hard-line policy from Beijing – that we don’t give a damn about your feelings,” said Chen Zhao, co-founder of the Montreal-based research firm Alpine Macro, who has insights on China after attending university with some of the nation’s high-ranking officials. “He’s just a party boss – he has no connection with Hong Kong and no foreign affairs expertise.”
Compared with Luo, his predecessor was the former director of China’s liaison office in Macau before he was appointed the top representative in Hong Kong in 2017. Hong Kong, a former British colony, was handed back to China in 1997 and is now a special administrative region of the country, while Macau was returned two years later by Portugal.
Hong Kong has been gripped by more than six months of protests by activists demanding greater autonomy from Beijing, with the protests often turning violent with subway stations, shops and banks vandalized. China’s government has consistently backed Chief Executive Carrie Lam, including on a mid-December visit to Beijing where she met Chinese President Xi Jinping.
“Luo has no relationship with the business community or political arena in Hong Kong,” Zhao said. “I think it will be very difficult for him to be helpful for the Hong Kong government, whereas the previous guy knew Carrie Lam well.”
With support for the protests undiminished after months of violent unrest, speculation of Wang’s removal from the position has been growing, particularly after pro-government candidates suffered a resounding defeat in Hong Kong district council elections in November. While the polls were for what’s considered to be the lowest rung of the city’s government, the results demonstrated the underlying public sentiment.
“Wang’s dismissal was long predicted because he appeared to be associated too closely with the pro-Beijing elites and business leaders, without reaching out widely to all social sectors especially the poor and the needy,” Sonny Lo, a Hong Kong-based political commentator, said Saturday. “His miscalculations of Hong Kong” may have led to his downfall, particularly after the elections.
Lam praised Wang for his “staunch support” for the government’s efforts “to curb violence and uphold the rule of law,” according to a statement. She also welcomed Luo and said that under his leadership the liaison office worked to promote “prosperity and stability” and “the integration of Hong Kong into the overall development of the nation and the positive development of the relationship between the mainland and Hong Kong.”
Luo worked for the Anhui government between 1982 and 1999. In 2010, he was appointed governor of Qinghai before being made party secretary in the province in 2013. MDT/Bloomberg