In the last two weeks of 2016, Beijing kicked off a round of official reshuffle related to Hong Kong affairs after the appointment of the commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Hong Kong as deputy chief of the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office.
The public was taken by surprise by the appointment of a science academic to the job.
The appointments sent new signals on how Beijing will handle Hong Kong affairs in the future, especially with a new leader set to be chosen in March, ahead of the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese sovereignty.
Beijing quietly appointed Dr. Tan Tieniu, formerly a vice president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, as one of the seven deputy directors of the Liaison Office, despite Tan’s lack of ties to Hong Kong and scant diplomatic experience.
Tan began began his career as a scientist after receiving a bachelor’s degree in electronic engineering from Xian Jiaotong University in 1984.
He then went to London and received his master’s degree in the same field from Imperial College in 1986 after which he spent 13 more years in Britain.
In 1998, Tan returned to China under the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Hundred Talents Program, a sponsorship scheme launched in 1994 to attract at least 100 Chinese scientists to return to the country.
It seems senior leaders in Beijing have given weight to Tan’s overseas studies and background.
Tan may contribute his experience in dealing with professionals and academics in Hong Kong and overseas. That should help Beijing promote its policies in a different way of communicating.
He may also play an important role in winning the trust of local academics. Many scholars in Hong Kong are treated as pro-democracy advocates, rather than pro-Beijing loyalists.
Tan’s professional background could also serve Beijing in catering to the silent majority, with many Hong Kong people having faith in experts rather than leftist political figures such as Robert Chow.
The appointment of Tan should be seen along with other key movements.
Just before Christmas, Beijing appointed Song Zhe, the foreign ministry’s commissioner in Hong Kong since 2012, as a deputy director of the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office in Beijing.
He is a veteran diplomat and had spent most of his time in Britain and Europe. Song has been tipped to be the next chief of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office when Wang Guangya retires.
Beijing won’t disclose the reason for the appointments. Some critics point to Liaison Office chief Zhang Ziaoming as the power behind the government of Chief Executive Leung Chung-ying.
They have been accused to fanning the independence issue, causing deep divisions in society.
Hong Kong people should study the interview of Wang Guangya in the latest issue of Bauhinia magazine in which he listed a key criteria for the next Hong Kong leader — love China and love Hong Kong.
But one key point should not be neglected, that is the candidate “should be able to reflect to the central government the Hong Kong situation comprehensively, accurately and objectively”.
Wang’s comments are clearly a signal that Beijing acknowledges it cannot get accurate information from Hong Kong’s leaders similar to its experience in the past.
And the reason for that is quite simple — Hong Kong leaders have tried to please the bosses in Beijing, amplifying whatever achievements were made but neglecting to mention the failings.
Leung Chun-ying has failed in achieving social harmony, something President Xi Jinping has made a point to mention in remarks relating to Hong Kong.
Some critics say Leung and Zhang are working together to mislead Beijing by implementing a hard-line approach to political conflict so as to achieve their own gain.
Now that Leung is not seeking reelection, observers say Beijing’s latest appointments indicate a softer a friendlier approach to Hong Kong, even though some key issues remain such as the pro-independence mindset.
From Hong Kong people’s perspective, Beijing is in no mood for a direct confrontation, which will only alienate the populace even more.
Also, some political observers think Beijing’s leaders may want to cut ties with the incumbent officials, as well as the present political and business elite. They might want to develop a new class of allies that will reflect the full situation, not just half of the story.
Let’s see whether Hong Kong will be a more harmonious society when the handover anniversary rolls around.
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