A new man has been appointed by Beijing to take charge of Hong Kong, a task that would require savvy in walking the tightrope between controlling what Beijing perceives as an increasingly wayward ward and yet not tipping it over into rebellion.
Zhang Xiaoming has been given that role
The fresh-faced 49-year-old, who worked for 26 years at the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, an administrative agency of the State Council, will now head the central government’s liaison office here. He takes over from Peng Qinghua, who moves to Guangxi as party secretary.
It is a fraught mission, with the rise of anti-mainland tensions
They reflect Hong Kongers’ fretting over bread-and-butter matters, as the spike in mainland visitors and investors here results in rising prices. But just as visceral is a growing sense that they no longer chart their own destiny, with Beijiing’s more visible interference in domestic affairs.
More are pouring out onto the streets to air their frustrations – with a fringe minority demonstrating separatist sentiments with British colonial flags.
Upholding China’s sovereignty, security and development interests
This, in turn, has led to a discernible uptick in Beijing’s unhappiness with Hong Kong – for the first time, President Hu Jintao said last month that the goal of policies towards the Special Administrative Region is “to uphold China’s sovereignty, security and development interests”.
Zhang himself chimed in with a provocative newspaper commentary then, accusing “external forces” of interfering in Hong Kong’s elections and calling on the government to pass the controversial national security law required under Article 23 of the Basic Law “in due course”.
But while sparking outrage here, the essay was a politically shrewd move to shore up support from Beijing, said observers.
“Obviously, he was at the point of being considered for the post, and such line of writing will contribute to his promotion,” said political scientist Joseph Cheng of City University. This would also have translated into more resources for the office here.
Another factor that would put Zhang in good stead is his legal training – an asset in the coming years as Hong Kong hammers out the design of its universal suffrage system and the security law.
Universal suffrage for Hong Kong?
Beijing has promised universal suffrage for Hong Kong by 2017 but has been vague on the form it would take. China would have to seek a balance between a system that would produce a leader it wants and yet that is not so controlled that it is rejected by Hong Kongers. A second tricky issue is the security law that Beijing wants to pass but also provoked 500,000 people to protest in 2003 when the Bill was proposed.
In negotiating the competing interests, said China watcher Willy Lam, Zhang would have to – his conservative political instincts notwithstanding – “embrace more conversations between the two sides, especially with the pan-Democrats and the post 1980 generation, who are trouble makers in Beijing’s eyes”.
“If there is not enough communication, it would be dangerous for him,” he warned. “There will be more conflicts.”
Zhang, for now, is pledging to do so. He flew in from Beijing, where he was based, to Hong Kong yesterday, making an appearance at the office. According to local media, he told his new colleagues he is happy to work in Hong Kong, and “looks forward to understanding Hong Kong better, and making many friends across the society”.
In a statement, Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying said Zhang is “very familiar with the situation in Hong Kong”, and added that he believes the liaison office can further promote exchanges and communication between the mainland and Hong Kong.
The liaison office’s No. 2 Li Gang will take charge of Macau.Source: Staits Times “Beijing puts new man in charge of HK”
- Hong Kong’s Leader Seeks to Ease Concerns About China (nytimes.com)
- Hong Kong and China: Growing apart? (bbc.co.uk)
- China CAN choose freedom: Hong Kong economy is proof (chinadailymail.com)