BEIJING HAS REPLACED its top official in Hong Kong, a sign of its growing impatience with the handling of the six months of protest that have roiled the city.
Wang Zhimin, who has been the director of Beijing’s Liaison Office in Hong Kong since 2017, has been replaced by Luo Huining, formerly party boss in the northern province of Shanxi.
The change was announced in a terse, two-sentence statement but came amid growing speculation that Wang’s days were numbered, speculation that has only intensified following the defeat of pro-government and pro-Beijing candidates in November’s district council elections.
The 65 years old Luo has no known connections with Hong Kong, suggesting the top leadership in Beijing plans to clean out the Liaison Office of officials who have a historic closeness to the Hong Kong bureaucracy that it believes impaired their effectiveness in dealing with the protests.
Luo’s party seniority and age support this view. He has been a full member of the Party’s Central Committee for eight years and has a reputation for having being a reliable executor in Shanxi of President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign. He had previously risen through the ranks in Qinghai in western China.
Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, remains in place, at least for now, having been publicly praised last month by Xi for her courage in ‘most difficult’ times.
These look set to continue, with tens of thousands of protesters welcoming in the new year with largely peaceful pro-democracy marches (not the ‘rampage‘ reported by state media). At the same time, in a New Year’s speech, Xi reinforced Beijing’s wish for a ‘stable and prosperous’ Hong Kong. Bridging the two will be Luo’s not inconsiderable task.