When Beijing’s top official in Hong Kong, Director Wang Zhimin of the Liaison Office, said last year that “it is good for Central and Sai Wan to walk together”, he, of course, meant closer cooperation between the central government and the Hong Kong SAR government.
His statement was quickly interpreted by political watchers as a hint that Beijing wants to expand its influence in the territory.
But it seems his words could also be taken in another context: Sai Wan is where the Liaison Office is, and Central refers to Grand Central. It turns out that the Liaison Office is the biggest buyer of Grand Central, a residential project which, despite its name, is actually located in Kwun Tong in Kowloon.
According to local reports, the Beijing representative office paid close to HK$250 million for 20 apartments in the Sino Land (00083.HK) development, each of which, except for one, is a two-bedroom unit measuring 522 square feet.
The good thing is the Liaison Office is exempted from the 15 percent buyer’s stamp duty and another 15 percent special stamp duty.
The deal represents the biggest home purchase of the Liaison Office. In 2016 it bought 14 units of The Merton in Kennedy Town for HK$120 million.
It is said that the office now owns more than 500 residential units in Hong Kong mainly for use of its staff. One paper estimated that it has spent HK$3.2 billion since 1997 for 300 flats.
The latest large-scale purchase fueled speculation that Beijing wants to send in more people to monitor the affairs of Hong Kong, especially with the city’s integration into the Greater Bay Area as announced last week.
There’s no need to wonder whether the central government has the financial muscle to snap up all those units – of course, it has – although it seems to be stepping up its purchases amid a bullish property market.
It’s also clear that there are lots of things for Beijing to monitor in Hong Kong, including possible money-laundering activities by some mainlanders and the District Council elections in November.
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