Beijing ‘likely to send senior police official to head national security office in Hong Kong’

William Zheng

Beijing will likely name a senior official from the Ministry of Public Security who is familiar with foreign intelligence agencies to head its new national security office in Hong Kong, according to sources and observers.

Official sources said the candidate – who will lead the mainland agency mandated under the new national security law that Beijing is imposing on Hong Kong – “will be announced soon after the legislation process” is completed.

According to state news agency Xinhua, Li Fei, head of the Constitution and Law Committee of the National People’s Congress, reported amendments to the draft law at a meeting of the legislature on Sunday. The controversial law – targeting secession, subversion, terrorism and “collusion with foreign and external forces” to endanger national security – is expected to be passed by the Standing Committee of China’s legislature on Tuesday at the close of the three-day meeting.

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A source familiar with the situation in Hong Kong said that since the new office would report directly to the Communist Party’s Central National Security Commission, it would be headed by “a senior security official with solid experience of Hong Kong matters and who understands the rules of engagement with foreign intelligence agencies”.

The source also said that Beijing would likely choose a senior member of the public security ministry, which controls the police, since leaders of its spy agency, the Ministry of State Security, rarely took up public roles.

A mainland expert on Hong Kong affairs said knowledge of the city, as well as Macau and Taiwan, would also be an important factor in making the selection.

“This official must have in-depth knowledge of Hong Kong matters and understand how they are linked to issues like Taiwan and foreign relations. They’ll need to have a helicopter view on these matters,” said the expert who requested anonymity as he was not authorised to comment on the issue.

Lau Siu-kai, vice-president of the semi-official Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, agreed that a candidate with a strong security background would be chosen given Hong Kong’s unique position.

“It is well-known that Western countries have established extensive intelligence networks in Hong Kong,” Lau said. “Their main target is the mainland, not Hong Kong.”

Lau also said that the United States and Britain had expressed strong opposition to the new law “because they would have to retreat [from Hong Kong] once the new law is implemented and Chinese national security personnel come in”.

Chen Siyuan, assistant public security minister, is seen as a front runner to head the new office. Photo: Handout

Alfred Wu, an associate professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, believed the assistant public security minister, Chen Siyuan, was a front runner for the job.

He said sending Chen – as part of a “tough and capable team” – to the city would give a clear message that Beijing had put Hong Kong high on its security agenda. It would also be a step up, as the new position was at the higher vice-ministerial level.

Chen, who is from Anhui province and has spent much of his career in the Beijing police force, was appointed head of the ministry’s Domestic Security Protection Bureau in August. But the 55-year-old took part in official meetings in the capacity of director of the ministry’s Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan Affairs Office back in January.

Liu Yuejin is another potential candidate for the Hong Kong posting. Photo: Xinhua

Along with Chen, there is speculation two other senior public security officials could be candidates for the Hong Kong posting after they recently stepped down from their roles: Liu Yuejin, 61, who was the counterterrorism commissioner; and Meng Qingfeng, 63, who was the deputy public security minister and specialises in commercial crimes.

Meng Qingfeng recently stepped down as deputy public security minister. Photo: Handout

Separately, a pro-Beijing think tank based in Hong Kong on Monday said it had conducted a telephone survey on the national security law last week. The Bauhinia Research Institute said its poll of 1,297 residents found that 67.8 per cent believed Hong Kong had a responsibility to safeguard China’s national security, while 55.7 per cent supported Beijing setting up a national security office in the city.

It said 57 per cent of those surveyed were not worried about being charged under the new law, while 55.7 per cent did not believe their freedom of speech would be affected by the legislation.

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