Everyone knows the Chinese Central Government’s Liaison Office exerts a lot of influence over how Hong Kong is run, but not too many people realize that it is also a heavyweight player in the local property market.
In one of its latest deals, the Chinese state organ splashed HK$135 million (US$17.4 million) in cash for the entire 22nd floor of Rykadan Capital Tower, a sleek new office building in Kwun Tong with a sweeping view of the Kai Tak cruise terminal and Victoria Harbor. Stamp duty alone cost about HK$11 million.
It is said that the Liaison Office’s Kowloon working group has moved there early this year. Previously, the group held office at 6 York Road in Kowloon Tong. York Road belongs to an upmarket residential neighborhood that features low-density developments. According to media reports, the local branch of Xinhua News Agency — the office’s predecessor — bought a villa in the area in 1982 and its fair market value now exceeds HK$300 million.
The most well-known property owned by the Liaison Office is The Westpoint, one of the tallest office towers in Sai Ying Pun that dwarfs the mostly old tenement blocks in the district. The 41-storey, 187-meter tower with a spherical observation penthouse is one of the most recognizable landmarks dominating Hong Kong Island’s western skyline.
Interestingly, the tower was originally meant to serve as the headquarters of the Chinese state-owned conglomerate China Merchants Group, but was sold to the Liaison Office in the early 2000s.
People may be wondering why the Liaison Office needed an entire skyscraper with a total floor area almost on par with the new government headquarters in Admiralty.
One reason is that the office has 24 departments and divisions. But another probable explanation is that the state organ needs ample space as it bolsters its role in Hong Kong.
It would need more rooms once it decides to increase the staff headcount and form task forces as Beijing tightens its grip over the territory.
According to HPA, a local architectural firm that designed The Westpoint, spacious open plans and glass partitions enable all floors to capture the panoramic harbor views while the top level houses the director’s office, an executive clubhouse and a grand ballroom.
The tower has numerous recreational facilities and amenities including a large gym, a conference center, banquet and exhibition halls and even a beauty salon with barbers from the mainland.
The Liaison Office’s Hong Kong Island working group has its own units at Shun Tak Centre in Sheung Wan and the New Territories working group is located in CitiMark, an office tower in Sha Tin. Properties at the two locations are now worth HK$470 million.
The office also has a strong appetite for high-end homes.
The most expensive one is a mansion at 21 Tai Tam Road near Stanley that commands impressive sea views. The plot was bought in 2007 for over HK$167 million and the mansion was built in 2011.
Over the years, the office has snapped up several properties in Happy Valley and Wan Chai including those at 1 Broadwood Road, 8 Village Road and 3 Sharp Street West. In Sai Wan, it owns flats at 18 Pokfield Road and Louis Height which serve as staff dormitories.
The Liaison Office also bought 48 units at Harbour Green, a luxury residential development above Olympic MTR station in west Kowloon and stocked up 15 homes at Sino Land’s Bayview Park in Chai Wan.
Outside Hong Kong, the office owns a large hotel (Bauhinia Resort, 紫荊山莊) in downtown Shenzhen and some properties in Guangzhou and Beijing.
Working for the office could be a cushy job for mainland cadres.
First is the status. The office holds the same administrative level as a ministry in China’s government hierarchy. A division chief at the office can therefore be on par with a mayor on the mainland in terms of official rank.
Living in one of the office’s many luxurious homes is one huge benefit. But that’s not all.
Local business tycoons, clansman associations and social groups are all keen to establish ties with the office. Why? Some cadres from the office are well-placed to help local businessmen who want obtain official positions on the mainland, like membership in regional committees of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.
Furthermore, the office supervises numerous China-invested enterprises based in Hong Kong, and such function could entail some benefits. According to mainland media accounts, the disgraced China Resources Holdings chairman Song Lin (宋林) used to treat cadres from the office to lavish dinners in private lounges on the top floor of the CR Building in Wan Chai. Who knows what else had been going on between them.
The office’s former director Peng Qinghua (彭清華) started his new tenure as the party secretary of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in late 2012 and deputy director of the Chinese State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office Zhang Xiaoming (張曉明) was appointed as Peng’s successor to head the Liaison Office. Observers see the changes as part of Beijing’s bid to rectify the office, which was becoming something like an independent fiefdom.
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