Change at top won't alter policies on HK
The retirement of Zeng Qinghong has sparked intense speculation over who will be the next mainland leader with ultimate responsibility for Hong Kong affairs.
Over the past few weeks, pro-Beijing politicians had invariably tipped either Jia Qinglin, the chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, or Liu Yandong, a Politburo member and the head of the Communist Party's United Front Work Department. Both have been involved in some of the city's affairs in the past five years.
Now it has emerged that Xi Jinping, the new Politburo Standing Committee member, has taken over the party's working group that oversees Hong Kong and Macau affairs. This should not come as a surprise. After all, Mr Xi has been slated to take over Mr Zeng's portfolios, which includes management of the party's day-to-day affairs, the vice-presidency and Hong Kong affairs.
Previously, the pro-Beijing groups in Hong Kong did not place him as the odds-on favourite, mainly because they believed he did not have much experience in handling Hong Kong affairs.
The fact that Mr Xi - who is widely expected to take over from President Hu Jintao in 2012 - is in charge of Hong Kong affairs should reassure many of the importance Beijing has attached to the city.
So what are the implications for the city?
Despite the change at the top, Beijing's policies towards Hong Kong are expected to remain on the same track. One important sign that Beijing seeks continuity and stability in its stance towards the city is that Liao Hui will remain as director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office.
There has been strong speculation that Mr Liao will retire as director in March next year when the National People's Congress approves the State Council reshuffle. Mr Liao, born in 1942, has reached the mandatory retirement age of 65 for a government minister and rumour has it Mr Liao is also keen to move on after 10 years in the job.
But the mainland leadership has decided that Mr Liao is the best point person they can find to handle the complexity of Hong Kong affairs, including the demand for universal suffrage and other political developments.
Mr Liao is one of the few mainland officials to have a thorough understanding of Hong Kong, and his family has long had strong connections with the city. His late father, Liao Chengzhi , was a key adviser to the leadership on Hong Kong, Taiwan, and foreign affairs from the 1950s to the 1970s.
More interestingly, Mr Zeng will continue to wield considerable influence over Hong Kong affairs behind the scenes. He took over the role in 2003 following the massive protests against then-chief executive Tung Chee-hwa's unpopular policies.
Mr Zeng and Mr Liao worked closely to orchestrate the rise of Donald Tsang Yam-kuen to replace Mr Tung and a series of policies to support Hong Kong, including the scheme to allow individual mainland travellers to visit the city and the introduction of the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement. All those measures have helped Hong Kong's economy return from out of the doldrums and regain its vibrancy.
Given Mr Zeng's influence and his close relationship with both Mr Liao and Mr Xi, his views on Hong Kong affairs will be eagerly sought.