Beijing expands liaison office in Hong Kong as it seeks to tighten supervision, sources say

William Zheng
·3-min read

Beijing is sending new blood to its liaison office in Hong Kong as it seeks to tighten supervision and policy implementation in the city, according to sources with knowledge of the matter.

One mainland source said about 200 new cadres had been transferred to the central government’s liaison office in the past year, partly to replace others in jobs on rotation.

“The net increase was about 100,” the source said. “Some of the rotations planned for last year were delayed because of the pandemic and the circumstances in Hong Kong, so there have been more newcomers recently.”

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He said many of them had been selected for their skills in areas such as social media and because they were “ready to start afresh” in Hong Kong.

The source also said the liaison office needed more staff because Beijing had given it more responsibilities. They included making sure Hong Kong was being “ruled by patriots”, helping the city contain the coronavirus, trying to build bridges with young people, and identifying long-term governance challenges.

A second source close to the liaison office said the cadres had all attended briefings, including on disciplinary issues, in Shenzhen before they arrived in Hong Kong. They were also vaccinated against Covid-19 while they were in the border city.

“The disciplinary reminder is important because the liaison office now promotes a down-to-earth working style and following [Communist Party discipline] is a top priority,” he said.

Luo Huining became Beijing’s top official in Hong Kong last year. Photo: Bloomberg
Luo Huining became Beijing’s top official in Hong Kong last year. Photo: Bloomberg

The party’s more hands-on approach in Hong Kong was evident last year when Xia Baolong, a state leader, was named as new head of the cabinet-level Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office (HKMAO) in Beijing, and Luo Huining, an experienced administrator, was appointed head of the liaison office.

Early this week, Shi Kehui, the former anti-corruption chief of Guangdong province, was transferred to Beijing to take a similar role at the HKMAO.

Among the new faces at the liaison office in Hong Kong is social media strategist Zheng Lin, who was appointed deputy director of its publicity, culture and sports department. Zheng, a former journalist for China Youth Daily, moved from the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission, the top agency in charge of law enforcement, where she was involved in creating the Chang An Jian account on social media that has amassed more than 60 million followers.

Her supervisor, Lu Xinning, deputy director of the liaison office, had a key role in establishing the social media operations of party mouthpiece People’s Daily before she was transferred to Hong Kong in March 2019.

Tian Feilong, a Hong Kong affairs and Basic Law expert at Beihang University in Beijing, said the expansion of the liaison office indicated that Beijing was determined to “dig deep into Hong Kong’s problems”.

He said after imposing the national security law in the city, purging pan-democrat lawmakers from the legislature and seeking the allegiance of civil servants in the past year, Beijing still had other “long-term issues” to address like education, the media and boosting employment.

“The central government has said it wants more supervision of the Hong Kong government,” he said. “As the liaison office gets more involved, it will play a more direct role instead of just being a facilitator to find solutions, and it will also have to be more active in identifying future leaders for Hong Kong since it is no longer just a [passive] body of the bureaucracy,” he said.

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