26 February 2020
Luo Huining is expected to overhaul the Liaison Office as well as try to regroup and rejuvenate the pro-establishment camp in the coming days. Photo: Bloomberg
Luo Huining is expected to overhaul the Liaison Office as well as try to regroup and rejuvenate the pro-establishment camp in the coming days. Photo: Bloomberg

What can we expect from the new Liaison Office chief?

More than seven months since the start of the protest movement following the government’s extradition bill misadventure, Hong Kong remains adrift with no sign of resolution of the crisis.

Stubbornly refusing to respond to the public’s demands, the Carrie Lam administration has missed several opportunities to achieve reconciliation in society and also continues to fuel public outrage by turning a blind eye to police brutality, resorting to falsehoods and allowing arrogance to get the better of it.

The situation is further compounded by constant interference by mainland authorities and inflammatory remarks about the resistance movement.

As far as the alleged intervention by hostile foreign powers and the perceived influence exerted by the so-called separatists are concerned, such accusations are both groundless and irrelevant.

In my view, the way to resolving the problem is quite simple: first, the most important thing the government needs to do is put an end to police brutality and establish an independent commission of inquiry to looks into all the events of the past half year.

Second, with regard to the public’s demand for universal suffrage, all the government needs to do in order to put to rest the anger of most people is to pledge that it will start working on it promptly.

What the people of Hong Kong want is true and genuine implementation of the “One Country Two Systems” and the high degree of autonomy that was promised under the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration and the Basic Law, and nothing more.

I believe these demands are fully reasonable and legitimate. Given that Hong Kong is a special administrative region on Chinese soil, Beijing shouldn’t regard meeting the demands and giving us universal suffrage as amounting to backing down or buckling under pressure.

Recently, a key personnel change took place within the Beijing Liaison Office, with director Wang Zhimin being replaced by a higher-ranking official, Luo Huining, who had earlier served as party chief of Shanxi province.

Wang was removed from his post apparently because he failed to get a firm grip on the complicated situation in Hong Kong.

From Beijing’s perspective, having a new representative in place of Wang is a good idea as it can help foster a new political atmosphere that can improve the handling of Hong Kong matters.

There is little doubt now that Luo will overhaul the Liaison Office as well as try to regroup and rejuvenate the “patriotic” or the pro-establishment camp in the coming days.

However, we need to bear in mind that the measures likely to be initiated by Luo are unlikely to strengthen Hong Kong and its core values, just like President Xi Jinping’s nationwide crackdown on corruption didn’t bring more human rights and freedom for the mainland people.

Luo may eventually agree to meet some of the demands of the Hong Kong people or embark on a shake-up of the communist party organs in the city.

He may even try to keep the SAR government at arm’s length to allow him more room for manoeuver, and try to ease public anger by targeting some unpopular senior police chiefs and government officials in the days ahead.

However, the potential olive branch must never be mistaken as a sign of Beijing softening its stance on Hong Kong.

Given the nature and logic of the communist party, any political concession made to the people would be nothing more than a temporary tactical retreat.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan 15

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Dr. Stephen Chiu Yiu-wah is an associate professor of the Faculty of Business and Economics of the University of Hong Kong.