Tags: hongkong | luoHuining | china | strongman

China Taps 'Strongman' for Hong Kong in Signal to Protesters

China Taps 'Strongman' for Hong Kong in Signal to Protesters

Sunday, 05 January 2020 07:54 AM

China has named a party stalwart with no experience in Hong Kong as its new top official based in the city, signaling its intention to restore law and order after almost seven months of social unrest.

Luo Huining will take over from Wang Zhimin as the Hong Kong liaison office director, the government said in a two-sentence statement on Saturday that didn’t elaborate on the changes in the semi-autonomous financial hub.

The new official served as Shanxi party secretary from 2016 until November, and became deputy chairman of the financial and economic committee of the National People’s Congress last month. Chinese media credited him with bringing Shanxi back to its feet, enforcing the central government’s campaign to purge corruption and weed out disloyal officials.

“Luo seems to have had the experience to end chaos and restore stability in Shanxi,” said Victoria Hui, associate professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame. “Since the outbreak of anti-extradition protests, Beijing has been trying to rein in Hong Kong,” and “it’s not clear why a strongman like him was not picked earlier.”

With support for the protests undiminished after months of violent unrest, speculation of Wang’s removal from the position had been growing, particularly after pro-government candidates suffered a resounding defeat in Hong Kong district council elections in November. While the polls were for what’s considered to be the lowest rung of the city’s government, the results signaled a rebuke of Beijing and demonstrated underlying public dissatisfaction with Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s administration.

Miscalculations

Wang was the former director of China’s liaison office in Macau before he was appointed to be the top representative in Hong Kong in 2017. The city, a former British colony, was handed back to China in 1997 and is now a special administrative region of the country, while Portugal returned Macau two years later.

Communications between Beijing and Hong Kong are mainly conducted through the Liaison Office, which was established in 2000 to replace the New China News Agency -- Beijing’s unofficial representative in the city during the colonial era.

“Wang’s dismissal was long predicted because he appeared to be associated too closely with the pro-Beijing elites and business leaders, without reaching out widely to all social sectors especially the poor and the needy,” Sonny Lo, a Hong Kong-based political commentator, said. “His miscalculations of Hong Kong” may have led to his downfall, particularly after the elections.

Hong Kong has been gripped by unrest by activists demanding greater autonomy from Beijing, with the protests often turning violent as subway stations, shops and banks are vandalized. China’s government has consistently backed Lam, including on a mid-December visit to Beijing where she met Chinese President Xi Jinping.

“Luo’s appointment probably signals a hard-line policy from Beijing -- that we don’t give a damn about your feelings,” said Chen Zhao, co-founder of the Montreal-based research firm Alpine Macro, who has insights on China after attending university with some of the nation’s high-ranking officials. “He’s just a party boss -- he has no connection with Hong Kong and no foreign affairs expertise.”

Lam praised Wang for his “staunch support” for the government’s efforts “to curb violence and uphold the rule of law,” according to a statement. She also welcomed Luo and said that under his leadership the liaison office worked to promote “prosperity and stability” and “the integration of Hong Kong into the overall development of the nation and the positive development of the relationship between the mainland and Hong Kong.”

Police Violence

“Luo has no relationship with the business community or political arena in Hong Kong,” Zhao said. “I think it will be very difficult for him to be helpful for the Hong Kong government, whereas the previous guy knew Carrie Lam well.”

Lam’s administration proposed a bill last year that would have allowed extraditions to China for the first time, prompting the protests. While she has since withdrawn the legislation, the demonstrations persisted and has extended to additional demands including an independent inquiry into police violence and direct leadership elections.

On Sunday, dozens of people were arrested in the New Territories district of Sheung Shui after an approved march from the local sports ground to the train station. Police said on their Facebook page that they fired tear gas in response to a petrol-bomb attack on the police station.

Why Hong Kong Is Still Protesting and Where It May Go: QuickTake

Sunday’s gathering of thousands followed a lull in protests since a mass rally on New Year’s day that organizers said drew hundreds of thousands.

In Xi’s New Year’s Eve address, he defended China’s system for running Hong Kong, an unusually high-profile acknowledgment of the Asian financial center’s political turmoil.

“Without a harmonious and stable environment, how can people live in peace and enjoy their work?” Xi asked. “I sincerely wish Hong Kong well. Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability is the wish of Hong Kong compatriots and the expectation of our motherland.”

Luo worked for the Anhui government between 1982 and 1999. In 2010, he was appointed governor of Qinghai before being made party secretary in the province in 2013.

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China has named a party stalwart with no experience in Hong Kong as its new top official based in the city, signaling its intention to restore law and order after almost seven months of social unrest.Luo Huining will take over from Wang Zhimin as the Hong Kong liaison...
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Sunday, 05 January 2020 07:54 AM
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