Beijing’s man in HK enlists China-backed businesses in coronavirus battle

19-Feb-2020 Intellasia | AFP | 6:02 AM Print This Post

Beijing’s top envoy in Hong Kong has called on China-funded businesses to help ensure market stability in the city, especially for daily necessities, and offer financial relief to local businesses reeling from the coronavirus outbreak.

Luo Huining, director of the central government’s liaison office in Hong Kong, issued the call on Monday as he visited a number of major Chinese enterprises in the city including Bank of China, China Merchants Group, China Resources and Sinopec, according to a statement on the liaison office’s website.

“Director Luo Huining… extended his warm wishes and paid tribute to all the frontline staff of these companies and conducted on-the-ground studies of their efforts to curb the coronavirus outbreak, [maintain] market supply, [provide] financial relief and [undertake] risk prevention,” the statement said.

“He asked China-funded enterprises in Hong Kong to conscientiously carry out the spirit of the important decisions of President Xi Jinping and arrangements of the central government, and give the highest priority to the prevention and control of the disease,” it said, adding that the businesses should give their full backing to the Hong Kong government.

However, the statement said Luo, who replaced Wang Zhimin as head of the liaison office in January, focused on the businesses’ handling of the coronavirus outbreak and apparently made no mention of the anti-government protests that rocked Hong Kong last year.

Since taking over from Wang, Luo has held a series of meetings with leaders in Hong Kong and Shenzhen and taken steps to carry out measures dictated by Beijing on how to reshape its bureaucracy responsible for managing Hong Kong and Macau affairs.

Last week, Beijing announced the appointment of Xia Baolong, a vice-chair of the top political advisory body, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, to double as the director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office (HKMAO) under the State Council.

The two appointments of Xia and Luo caught some people by surprise as both were close to the official retirement age and lacked Hong Kong experience. A source familiar with Beijing’s handling of Hong Kong affairs said Xia met key HKMAO officials last weekend for briefings.

“The key is to ensure Hong Kong’s stability in this critical period,” the source said, referring to the coronavirus outbreak, which has infected almost 60 people in the city since it erupted in Wuhan, Hubei province, in December.

The source said that Xia’s priority would be to reform the system of how Beijing manages Hong Kong and Macau affairs while still paying full respect to the “one country, two systems” principle.

“They are sent by Xi to check what went wrong and fix it. They are not from within the system… and can bring a fresh perspective and give a bold and objective assessment [to leaders in Beijing],” the source said, noting that Xia also holds the rank of a state leader as a vice-chair of CPPCC.

For Luo, one of his assignments would be to strengthen connections and coordination with major forces within the so-called pro-Beijing camp in Hong Kong, including the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, the Federation of Trade Unions and the New People’s Party.

Of the two, Xia is a more familiar face in Hong Kong, having headed business delegations to the city during his time as a party leader in the eastern province of Zhejiang, where he also worked alongside President Xi Jinping.

Kenneth Lau Ip-keung, chair of the Heung Yee Kuk, said Xia visited the New Territories rural body and village offices in 2010 and 2011, when he was the deputy party secretary of eastern Zhejiang province.

Lau said his late father, former chair Lau Wong-fat, had strong ties in Zhejiang province and was a friend of Xia.

“He went to the rural areas and paid a visit to the village office, in an effort to know us better,” Lau said. “You know, many mainland officials just rushed to ‘Sai Wan’, totally overlooking those of us who are in the New Territories,” he said, referring to the liaison office.

“I don’t think [he's] a hardliner or softliner in terms of handling the Hong Kong issue. I believe he is a pragmatic person, with his feet on the ground.”

Sources said that Xia can speak English fluently and is a skilled player of the erhu, a traditional Chinese musical instrument.

But it would be his experience of working with Xi in Zhejiang that could be his biggest asset.

Xia spent 15 years in Zhejiang, four of them under Xi, who was then the party boss of the east China province.

In a speech in 2016, Xia said that the private sector was Zhejiang’s economic “trump card” and the province’s entrepreneurs its most valuable resources.

Gu Su, a Nanjing University political scientist, said that Xia’s experience would aid him in integrating Hong Kong and Macau into southern China’s economy.

“His experience in Zhejiang, which is an open economy driven by the private sector, will be a plus for him to understand Hong Kong, which is also a market-driven open economy,” Gu said.


Category: Hong Kong

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