Like Qasem Suleimani, Luo Huining is someone we had largely ignored until he received a very nasty shock this weekend. Luo is to replace Wang Zhimin as director of the Liaison Office – Beijing’s shadow government in Hong Kong. Wang (as foretold in a Reuters scoop) was in disgrace for hobnobbing with tycoons and shoe-shiners and failing to spot that Hong Kong’s people hated the government. He has reportedly been demoted to some sort of librarian job.
We can gather several things about Luo. He already outranked Wang. He is familiar to, and trusted by, Xi Jinping. He has previously overseen two provinces (one yak, one steel hub) in no-nonsense ways the CCP admires – clamping down on restive populations and crooked cadres. And he has had little past contact with or knowledge of Hong Kong.
This suggests he will in practice bypass the HK and Macau Affairs Office/Liaison Office apparatus and report directly to top levels in Beijing. It also suggests he will approach Hong Kong as a Mainland problem, without caring too much about the troublesome and alien rule-of-law, free-speech and other local foibles. Perhaps on a brighter note, it implies that he will treat the local power structure and elites with similar disdain.
But first – we might think – he must get to grips with the Liaison Office itself. The 1,000 or so staff in the ugly tower in Western have for years apparently focused on nurturing the easiest United Front targets, like patriotic groups and shoe-shining businessmen. They also seem to have dabbled extensively in the local property market. One priority will be to get the organization to put more effort into co-opting, monitoring, infiltrating and intimidating everyone else.
He is also nearing retirement age. That could mean he is a stop-gap (his appointment seems to have been fairly sudden). Some think it means he will make some swift changes – though all the evidence is that Beijing is still clueless about what exactly to do. More likely, his main mission is to find out what’s really (so far as ideology allows) happening here, and to clean shop in Sai Ying Pun.
There is no reason to expect that mere mortals will notice any significant change of course in the short term. The frantic and ham-fisted attempts to suppress opposition will continue. Intimidation of companies and individuals will strengthen. Talk of national security and patriotic education will get louder. Pressure on bureaucrats to fix livelihood issues will grow. The sorts of things you can feel coming will come – maybe with an extra dash of ‘unwavering’, ‘firmly’ and ‘resolutely’, like they do it in Qinghai and Shanxi.
Mr Luo might get rid of Carrie and her buddies – but hey, I said significant change. More of which in the next few days.