Beijing’s new man in Hong Kong

Reshuffle at liaison office . . .

Beijing announced a major reshuffle in Hong Kong on Saturday. Luo Huining, who previously served as Party Secretary in Shanxi and Qinghai provinces, will replace Wang Zhimin as the director of China’s Central Liaison Office in the Special Administrative Region. The reshuffle of the most senior Chinese government representative in Hong Kong follows seven months of ongoing popular protests sparked by Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s introduction of an extradition bill that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China, and after a crushing defeat of the pro-Beijing camp in the Hong Kong district council elections in November.

Why the reshuffle?

Beijing reportedly dismissed Wang because of his failure to anticipate public sentiment in Hong Kong. According to reports, Wang first miscalculated when he supported the introduction of the extradition bill in the spring, and later failed to anticipate the defeat of the pro-Beijing camp in district council elections, in which the pro-democracy camp won 87 per cent of the seats. Wang was an easier target to dismiss than Lam, a high-profile official appointed by Beijing. Her sacking would be widely perceived as giving in to the protesters – not only invigorating the movement, but also shattering President Xi Jinping’s strongman image.

What next for Hong Kong . . .

Speaking to the media on Monday, Luo Huining said that he hoped that Hong Kong can “get back on the right track.” The CCP’s official pronouncements and Luo’s own background provide clues to how this could be achieved. At a key leadership meeting in October, Beijing flagged new policies on nationalist and patriotic education and strengthening legal enforcement that will be applied to Hong Kong. Raising the grim potential of escalation, Luo himself has experience containing popular and elite resistance: as party boss of Qinghai he pursued stringent policies towards that province’s Tibetan ethnic minority, while in Shanxi he led an anti-corruption campaign in which senior provincial officials were purged.