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China replaces head of Hong Kong liaison office amid ongoing protests

12: 30 p.m. | Protesters hold up banners during a rally in Hong Kong on January 2, 2020. The banner at left reads

12: 30 p.m. | Protesters hold up banners during a rally in Hong Kong on January 2, 2020. The banner at left reads "Against authoritarianism, we are not afraid because we have each other." The protests began in June in response to a now-withdrawn Bill that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China, where courts are controlled by the Communist Party, and have evolved into a broader pro-democracy movement.   | Photo Credit: AP

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Wang Zhimin, who had held the post since 2017, had been replaced by 65-year-old Luo Huining, the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security said on its website late on Saturday.

China has replaced the head of its Hong Kong Liaison Office, the most senior mainland political official based in the Chinese-controlled territory, following more than six months of often-violent anti-government protests in the city.

Wang Zhimin, who had held the post since 2017, had been replaced by 65-year-old Luo Huining, the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security said on its website late on Saturday. Until November, Luo was the top official of China's ruling Communist Party in the northern province of Shanxi.

Reuters reported exclusively in November that Beijing was considering potential replacements for Wang, in a sign of dissatisfaction with the Liaison Office's handling of the crisis, the worst since the city reverted from British to Chinese rule in 1997.

Saturday's statement gave no other details on the change.

Mr. Luo, a loyalist of President Xi Jinping, has not previously held any Hong Kong-related position and is at the age when top Chinese officials typically retire. In Shanxi, he had been tasked with cleaning up a graft-ridden, coal-rich region where corruption was once likened to cancer.

The Liaison Office, which reports to China's State Council, serves as the platform for Beijing to project its influence in the city, and has come in for criticism in Hong Kong and mainland China for misjudging the situation in the city.

Shortest serving Liaison office director

Mr.Wang is the shortest serving Liaison office director since 1997.

Ma Ngok, a political scientist at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said it had been only a matter of time before Beijing made Hong Kong-related personnel changes, and that the switch did not necessarily indicate a change in policy.

“Beijing is having trouble devising new policy in Hong Kong,” Mr. Ma said.

“Given his age it is possible he is only a stop-gap appointment,” Mr. Ma said of Mr. Luo.

Johnny Lau, a political scientist and commentator, said Mr. Wang's exit was unlikely to placate Hong Kong protesters who have demanded that the city's leader, Carrie Lam, step down.

Writing in the Communist Party's official People's Daily in 2017, Mr. Luo said Shanxi province had been ardently following instructions from Mr. Xi to clean up the mess there.

“All the province's people have deeply felt that the all-out efforts to enforce party discipline have been like spring rain washing away the smog,” Luo wrote.

Before moving to Shanxi, Mr. Luo had been the top party official in the western province of Qinghai.

“Shanxi has gone from being a victim of a regression in its political environment to being a beneficiary of all-out efforts to enforce party discipline,” he wrote in 2017.

'Staunch support'

Mass protests erupted in June in Hong Kong over an extradition bill that would have allowed individuals to be sent for trial to the mainland, where justice is controlled by the Communist Party.

Though the bill was withdrawn, protests have continued over a broad perception that Beijing is meddling improperly in city affairs and complaints of police brutality.

Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam speaks to the media in a weekly news briefing after local elections in Hong Kong, China, November 26, 2019.

Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam speaks to the media in a weekly news briefing after local elections in Hong Kong, China, November 26, 2019.   | Photo Credit: Reuters

 

Ms. Lam said in a statement on Saturday that the Liaison Office would continue under Mr. Luo's leadership to work with the Hong Kong government for the “positive development” of the relationship between the mainland and Hong Kong.

She added that Mr. Luo's predecessor had provided “staunch support” to the Hong Kong government's efforts to curb violence and uphold the rule of law during the unrest of recent months.

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Printable version | Jan 27, 2020 9:31:56 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/china-replaces-head-of-hong-kong-liaison-office-amid-ongoing-protests/article30483773.ece

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