Wang's a former diplomat, and it shows

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 June, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 June, 2011, 12:00am


The first Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office (HKMAO) chief to speak to ordinary Hongkongers since the handover, Wang Guangya shows in his actions and his words traces of his past as a seasoned diplomat.

His openness stands in sharp contrast to the low profile of his conservative predecessor, Liao Hui, a former military officer who kept silent in public and cloaked the work of the HKMAO in mystery for the 13 years he was in charge of it.

Upon taking up his new post in October last year, Wang, a London-educated former vice-minister of foreign affairs and China's former permanent representative to the United Nations, immediately made a friendly gesture, waving at reporters outside the HKMAO building in Beijing, telling them he had 'come to learn'.

Soon afterwards, his office took a step to increase transparency by putting up photos of its leaders' meetings with prominent figures in Hong Kong on its official website. The public could see which officials, businessmen and groups were received by Beijing's office in charge of Hong Kong affairs. Wang also met senior media executives and answered their questions on the suppression of press freedom on the mainland and exiled dissident Wang Dan's application for a visa to Hong Kong.

Wang has taken firm stands on some sensitive political issues, and appears unafraid of stirring up controversy. Less than three months after becoming director of the HKMAO, he threw cold water on a letter Hong Kong deputies to the National People's Congress wrote in support of Zhao Lianhai - who had been sent to prison after campaigning for justice in the tainted-milk scandal. Wang said the mainland treasured judicial independence and that 'under 'one country, two systems', well water and river water should not mix'. Locals denounced his remark.

Anyone searching for a memory of an HKMAO director speaking sternly in public would have to turn the clock back to the 1990s. As a pre-handover Hong Kong affairs chief, Lu Ping called the then British colony's last governor, Chris Patten, a 'sinner of the ages' when Patten tweaked the electoral system to allow more Hongkongers to elect their lawmakers. Lu said Patten 'wants to be a prostitute but prepares a chastity belt'.

Other Beijing officials handling Hong Kong affairs before the handover also demonstrated vivid personalities. Former HKMAO deputy director Chen Zuoer once warned against a surge in welfare spending by the Patten administration, saying: 'It's like a Formula One car that is going to crash and kill all six million people in Hong Kong.'

Legislator Cheung Man-kwong explained his take on the different styles. 'Lu Ping spoke toughly because he had to show strength amid the Sino-British struggle. Liao Hui's silence reflected that the central government did not want people to have the impression of it interfering with Hong Kong affairs after the handover.

'Now Wang Guangya comes onstage. [His words] show the central government feels it should be more visible and tell residents it knows about the livelihood issues here.'