22 February 2019
Political observers believe Zhang Xiaoming (above) was promoted for his hardline approach to the Hong Kong pro-independence movement. Photo: HKEJ
Political observers believe Zhang Xiaoming (above) was promoted for his hardline approach to the Hong Kong pro-independence movement. Photo: HKEJ

Will Beijing change its HK policy after key appointments?

Many Hong Kong people understand that Beijing is in charge of all Hong Kong affairs, but they still choose to trust Beijing’s commitment to “one country, two systems” which grants Hong Kong a certain level of autonomy.

Two key appointments in Beijing’s Hong Kong affairs offices indicate that Beijing may have to adopt a softer approach to gradually transforming Hong Kong people’s mindset regarding Beijing’s role in the city.

On Monday, two new Beijing officials in charge of Hong Kong affairs assumed office in Beijing and Hong Kong. The new head of Beijing’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, Zhang Xiaoming, is the former head of the Liaison Office of the central government in Hong Kong. The post was assumed by Wang Zhimin.

Political observers believe Zhang, who has been in Hong Kong for five years, was promoted for his hardline approach to the Hong Kong pro-independence movement, as well as to follow President Xi Jinping’s “China first” direction when dealing with controversial political issues in Hong Kong.

Zhang told journalists that people should not link the personnel changes with a switch in the central government’s stance on Hong Kong, which he said has never changed.

Speaking outside his office on his first day at work, Zhang said the key is to follow what President Xi said about “accurately understanding and implementing the one country, two systems principle”.

Zhang also said he thinks Hong Kong people have different views on whether he is a hardliner or not. He said it’s important for him to speak out on major issues, and he thinks there should be “zero tolerance” toward calls for Hong Kong independence.

Zhang said he did not mind criticism against his appointment to succeed Wang Guangya, adding he has done all the right things in compliance with the central government’s policy on Hong Kong and Macau.

In Hong Kong, Zhang has been replaced by Wang Zhimin as Beijing’s Liaison Office director.

Wang said he hopes “the SAR and its people will shine like the sun”, adding he can facilitate more exchanges between Hong Kong and the mainland.

The change in the two senior Beijing officials shouldn’t bring significant change in Beijing’s policy on Hong Kong given the policy is set by the standing committee of the Politburo.

Many analysts said Zhang Dejiang, the highest-ranking Beijing official overseeing Hong Kong affairs, will retire this fall after the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China. At that time, Xi will announce his new cabinet. There are no indications as to who will succeed Zhang Dejiang.

That said, there are also no signs of any impending policy changes ahead of the party congress next month.

Some commentators said that Zhang Xiaoming, who had a close relationship with former chief executive Leung Chun-ying, could be targeted by the authorities for his activities when he was in Hong Kong. For example, his calligraphy was sold at an extremely high price during a political dinner.

But some doubt the reason for Zhang’s move to Beijing was to put him back under the radar of the communist authorities after he developed close relationships with Hong Kong tycoons.

Meanwhile, Wang should establish a new working partnership with the SAR government led by Carrie Lam to redraw the line between Western District and Admiralty that should prevent too much interference by Beijing in Hong Kong affairs.

On Monday, Wang said he fully supports the SAR government and the chief executive. That should be good news for Hong Kong as this shows Beijing’s commitment to “one country,  two systems”.

Wang’s personal background suggests he used to work closely with Xi such as in Fujian province and in the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office. Some commentators regard Wang as a member of Xi’s inner circle.

The appointment of Wang as Beijing’s top official in Hong Kong shows Xi’s direct involvement in Hong Kong affairs.

That means his directives and policies can be communicated to Hong Kong without being misrepresented or misinterpreted.

Wang’s main task will be to implement Xi’s pronouncements such as those on the youth and the Hong Kong independence movement.

Wang may also need to consolidate different forces in the pro-Beijing camp, especially radical members such as lawmaker Junius Ho, to stop them from embarrassing the authorities.

But the most important role for Wang is to reflect Hong Kong public opinion to Xi.

– Contact us at [email protected]


EJ Insight writer

EJI Weekly Newsletter

Please click here to unsubscribe