China’s new top official in Hong Kong hopes city can return to normal, and says ‘one country, two systems’ must be implemented in long-term

Natalie Wong

China’s new top representative to Hong Kong hopes the city will “get back on the right track” after months of anti-government protests and says the “one country, two systems” formula has offered it the best advantages.

Luo Huining was speaking to the media on Monday on his first day as director of the central government’s liaison office in the city, after replacing Wang Zhimin, who was in the post for two years and three months following his appointment in September 2017.

Despite having no experience in Hong Kong affairs, Luo, former party leader of Shanxi province, said the city was “no stranger” to him. “I will do my best in the job with a sincere affection towards Hong Kong,” he said.

The reshuffle, announced on Saturday, is the first major leadership change since the ongoing protests broke out in June, sparked by the now-withdrawn extradition bill.

Luo Huining is no stranger to Hong Kong and previously met Chief Executive Carrie Lam when he led a delegation to the city in 2018. Photo: Handout

Luo, who has reached the retirement age of 65, took up the role a week after he was named deputy director of the financial and economic affairs committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC) – a position usually reserved for retired officials.

“In the past six months, the situation in Hong Kong has been heart-wrenching. We earnestly hope Hong Kong can return to the right track,” he said, while also quoting President Xi Jinping as saying in his new year remarks that there would not be a peaceful home without a harmonious and stable environment.

Luo did not mention any strategies on achieving that during a five-minute speech at his workplace, after which he did not take questions.

The new chief also backed Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and maintained that one country, two systems – the framework under which Beijing governed Hong Kong – provided the best advantages for the city.

“It is believed that with the efforts of Chief Executive Carrie Lam, the government and various sectors in society, the constitution and Basic Law can be fully implemented.” he said.

“One country, two systems will be implemented steadily in the long-term, and the long-term prosperity and stability of Hong Kong can be maintained. I’m fully confident in this.”

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Luo also said China recognised Hong Kong people’s important contributions to the nation’s opening up and modernisation and that Beijing had been the “strongest backer” of the city.

Major pro-establishment parties said the new chief had not yet scheduled meetings with them.

Various sources in the pro-Beijing camp believed Luo would meet the liaison office’s internal departments in the next few days, before contacting government officials and political parties.

They said Luo was expected to attend an NPC preparatory meeting in Zhuhai next Wednesday to meet Hong Kong deputies and would return to the city at night to see pro-Beijing groups at a spring reception held by the liaison office.

Luo’s appointment was announced on Saturday by Xinhua news agency, which did not indicate reasons for the change.

It is possible that Beijing values his experience in resolving political crises in provincial affairs more than his familiarity with Hong Kong

Lau Siu-kai, vice-chairman of semi-official think tank

A source told the Post that Wang had gone to Beijing, and would act as deputy chief of the Central Institute for Party History and Literature Research, which looks into Marxist theories, Xi Jinping Thought and the writings of leaders.

While most of the liaison office’s previous directors were bureaucrats who worked in the central government before taking up the Hong Kong post, Luo, who has a PhD in economics, is the first head with rich experience in provincial affairs, serving as party secretary in two less-developed provinces, Qinghai and Shanxi.

He was said to have impressed the top leadership by swiftly weeding out corruption and overhauling the Shanxi government.

Luo Huining was said to have impressed the top leadership with his work in Shanxi. Photo: May Tse

Lau Siu-kai, vice-chairman of semi-official think tank the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, said Luo’s lack of experience in Hong Kong would not hinder his work.

“It is possible that Beijing values his experience in resolving political crises in provincial affairs more than his familiarity with Hong Kong,” he said.

Stanley Ng Chau-pei, a Hong Kong deputy to the NPC and president of the pro-Beijing Federation of Trade Unions, recognised Luo’s work in handling complicated issues on the mainland. He believed it would help Luo bring in new constructive solutions, especially in enhancing economic integration between Hong Kong and mainland cities.

But a pro-establishment heavyweight disagreed with his allies and said Luo’s provincial experience was irrelevant.

“Managing mainland provinces well doesn’t mean he is capable of tackling problems in Hong Kong, as the liaison office only has an advisory role in Hong Kong matters,” he said.

“The essence is whether the official respects the autonomy of the Hong Kong administration when devising strategies to de-escalate the tension.”

A source familiar with the operation of the liaison office said Wang’s departure was a gesture to hold him accountable for the pro-establishment camp’s crushing defeat in November’s district council elections. The bloc lost heavily, winning just 60 out of 452 seats across the city.

He said Wang had made an inaccurate assessment of public opinion. “He expected a substantial number of voters to support pro-establishment candidates in the wake of the escalation of violence in protests. But the scenario didn’t happen,” the source said.

Lawmaker Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu, leader of the opposition Civic Party, said Wang should have been held accountable for his unsatisfactory performance long before the political tension escalated. Yeung said he would observe whether there was any change in strategy in handling protesters.

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