China announced the appointment of new Hong Kong liaison office director Luo Huining to replace Wang Zhimin on January 4, in a move seen by many as a bid to restore stability in the city as protests continue. This is China’s first major leadership change in the SAR since anti-government protests started in June 2019.
The replacement was not unexpected as speculation of Wang’s removal had been mounting, particularly since pro-government candidates suffered a major defeat in Hong Kong district council elections in November.
Luo, a former party leader of Shanxi province, was known to have local experience in cracking down corruption and ending chaos in the landlocked province in Northwest China, although he had no prior position directly linked to Hong Kong. Wang, a former director of China’s liaison office in Macau, was primarily a bureaucrat like most of his predecessors before his Hong Kong assignment started in September 2017.
The Liaison Office is considered the top representative in Hong Kong and serves as the main communication channel between Beijing and the SAR. Luo’s appointment positively could bring fresh ideas to resolve the political turmoil in Hong Kong, although we expect protests to continue as some feel he is just a hard-line policy from China. Overall, we expect the new leadership to follow Xi’s line for a steady implementation of “one country, two systems”. Luo’s disconnection with the local elite business leaders, meanwhile, could serve helpful for policy changes that reach out to the people, in our view.