Beijing’s top envoy in Hong Kong has written to pro-Beijing politicians in the city appealing to them for unity with mainland China in battling the coronavirus, and criticising those he said were using the crisis for political self-interest.
Luo Huining, the new director of Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong, on Thursday sent a letter by email to local members of the National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s legislature, and top legislative advisory body the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), calling on them to stay calm and fight for the mainland and Hong Kong with “faith, love and unity”.
Calling it a “political coronavirus”, Luo also condemned “a few people” behind the strike by Hong Kong medical workers over the response to the outbreak, and said as long as border checkpoints remained open, ample food and hygiene supplies would continue to flow into the city.
A summary of the letter, which marked the first time a director of the liaison office had addressed the delegates by email, was posted on social media – also a first for the office.
In the excerpts posted online, Luo said he had turned to the internet to connect with Hong Kong’s 36 NPC deputies and more than 120 CPPCC delegates because of the coronavirus outbreak, and said: “What we need to quarantine is the virus, not hearts.”
The letter told the delegates that they should have confidence in winning the battle against the coronavirus, which has infected over 70,000 people and killed more than 2,000 since it was discovered in Wuhan, in central China, in December.
Luo criticised “a few people, at this moment, still creating all kinds of conflicts for political self-interest, and even manipulating strikes to ‘save Hong Kong’. Is this not a political coronavirus?”
He said this month’s strike by Hong Kong medical workers over the response to the coronavirus by the city’s government showed “a disregard to the public’s health interests, a disregard to the lives of their colleagues, and a disregard to the overall benefits of society”, and warned them: “Please don’t stand on the wrong side of history.”
Thousands of doctors, nurses and hospital employees had voted to strike to press the government to close all borders with mainland China, along with other demands including that the government ensure a supply of surgical masks and better support for medical practitioners.
Luo assured the delegates that “the mainland will always give its full support to the [Hong Kong] government and Hong Kong people in preventing and fighting the epidemic”.
“The relevant departments and Chinese-funded enterprises in Hong Kong are working hard to stabilise the supply in the Hong Kong market,” he wrote. “As long as the border remains open, cooking oil, rice, noodles, fresh meat, fruits and vegetables, and even disinfectant solutions, toilet rolls, etc, will continue to flow in.”
Comparing Hong Kong’s handling of the outbreak with that of Singapore, Luo said: “With the joint support of everyone, the [Hong Kong] government has done a lot to prevent and control the epidemic.
“The number of confirmed cases in Hong Kong is currently about the same as Singapore, but Hong Kong has 2 million more population than Singapore, and the city has much more frequent contact with the mainland.”
He mentioned the return home early on Thursday of 106 Hong Kong residents who had been on board the Diamond Princess ocean liner, quarantined in a dock in Yokohama, Japan. Luo said it was made possible only through the joint efforts of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Hong Kong government and Hong Kong lawmakers of the establishment camp.
The excerpts posted online including a call for delegates not to panic or fear despite the gravity of the outbreak, and told them to rely on “science and a clear mind” in winning the battle.
“This is a moment when we need to rely on science, not political manipulation, a clear mind and not fear, and share a common understanding that we are all in the same boat, not to dig ditches to separate one another,” Luo wrote.
Hong Kong’s former No 2 government official, Henry Tang Ying-yen, who leads the Friends of Hong Kong Association – comprising Hong Kong’s NPC and CPPCC members – said the group would do its best to support the city’s government in fighting the coronavirus.
In a statement, Tang called on Hong Kong people to put their differences aside and focus on fighting the epidemic. “Hong Kong could overcome the Sars epidemic in 2003. Today, we can win the battle again as long as we stay united,” he said.
Hong Kong lawmaker Tanya Chan, the convenor of the pro-democracy group in the city’s Legislative Council, said Luo should not point the finger at medical staff but should look at the roots of the crisis.
“That’s a systemic problem in the mainland, with officials covering up the outbreak in the beginning,” Chan said. “The governance has been ineffective.”
Noting that Luo had highlighted Beijing’s offer to help send masks to the city, Chan said: “We thank China for the masks, but not the virus.”
Luo’s letter was his second public attempt in less than a week to drum up support in Hong Kong over the coronavirus outbreak. On Monday, he visited several major mainland-funded enterprises in Hong Kong – including Bank of China, China Resources, Sinopec and China Merchants Group – calling on them to ensure market stability in the city, especially for daily necessities, and offer financial relief to local businesses reeling from the effects of the coronavirus.
Luo highlighted that with the exception of the outbreak’s epicentre in Hubei province, the growth in the number of cases on the mainland was slowing, and an increasing number of patients had recovered and been discharged from hospital.
“The drop [in the daily numbers of new infections] and the increase [in the cured cases] has eased anxiety and given us greater confidence,” the letter said.
Luo used the phrase “blood is thicker than water” to describe the close relationship between Hong Kong and the mainland.
“Luojia Mountain and Lion Rock are of the same branch, and the Han River and the Fragrant Harbour are from the same origin,” he wrote, referencing major landmarks in Wuhan and Hong Kong.
Last week, Beijing announced the appointment of Xia Baolong, a vice-chairman of the CPPCC, as director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office – its cabinet-level office that oversees Hong Kong affairs – signalling that the top leadership was stepping up its management of the city.
Additional reporting by Kimmy Chung
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