China’s new non-party liaison chief aims to boost support from Hong Kong business groups

Former Fujian party chief You Quan will take charge of body responsible for liaising with non-party groups in mainland and overseas

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 07 November, 2017, 10:08pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 07 November, 2017, 10:07pm

The Chinese Communist Party has appointed the former party chief of the coastal province of Fujian to take charge of its relations with non-party groups at home and abroad, including Hong Kong and Taiwan.

State media reported on Tuesday that You Quan had been appointed the head of the party’s United Front Work Department on Tuesday, after handing over his position in the southeastern province to the former governor.

You’s new responsibilities will include rallying support from business elites in Hong Kong and one analyst suggested he would also be given the task of strengthening pro-Beijing elements in the city.

The United Front Work Department has a broad portfolio that ranges from courting elites outside the party to ensure their political loyalty, cultivating ties with overseas Chinese to exert influence, managing relations with the country’s ethnic minorities and religious groups, as well as dealing with Tibet and Xinjiang issues.

After decades of relative low-profile work abroad, the department has recently been thrust into global attention when its influence over overseas Chinese – including students and the wider Chinese diaspora – aroused controversy in countries such as Australia and New Zealand.

You, who spent most of his career working as secretary in China’s cabinet, the State Council has little direct experience dealing with ethnic and religious issues.

But he did gain experience in dealing with Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan because of his tenure in Fujian, a relatively affluent province that has benefited from overseas investments – especially from across the strait in Taiwan, which the mainland views as a breakaway province.

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Under You’s stewardship, Fujian has sought to strengthen its economic ties with the island, setting up a pilot free-trade zone in 2015 that focuses on attracting Taiwan’s businesses.

You was also the first Fujian party chief to visit Taiwan, leading a delegation in July 2014 for a five-day trip to the island to promote further exchanges.

In June 2015, You also led a Fujian delegation on a three-day visit to Hong Kong to promote business cooperation, meeting members of the Hong Kong Federation of Fujian Associations and former chief executive Leung Chun-ying.

By that time Hong Kong had become the largest source of foreign direct investment in Fujian, accounting for 61 per cent of the province’s utilised FDI, according to the Hong Kong Trade Development Council.

Businessman Peter Wong Man-kong, a veteran local member of the National People Congress, said a group of NPC deputies had met You during a study trip in Fujian in June.

“I remember that he is a very pragmatic technocrat … who is familiar not only with his own province, but with Hong Kong and Taiwan affairs too,” Wong recalled.

“If he is getting involved in Hong Kong affairs in his new role, maybe it will help the city to forge closer ties with Taiwan.”

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Jimmy Kwok Chun-wah, chairman of the Federation of Hong Kong Industries, said: “What the business sector wants is for the mainland authorities to consult them when they are drafting policies that could affect Hong Kong’s businessmen – not after those policies have been put in place.”

Kwok, who met You on a visit to Fujian three years ago, said he hoped that the UFWD could establish a regular mechanism for communicating with the business sector.

Professor Lau Siu-kai, a vice-chairman of The Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, a semi-official mainland think tank, said he expected one of You’s roles was to strengthen the role of the pro-Beijing camp in Hong Kong.

“The overall Hong Kong policy has been well set by President Xi Jinping. There won’t be much change in Hong Kong-mainland relations whoever is to be the head of the United Front Work Department. But, it has been a plan of Beijing to consolidate and expand support from the professional sector and the middle-class in Hong Kong.

“As You has some connections with the Hong Kong business sector before, he might make use of such advantage to strengthen the pro-Beijing camp in Hong Kong.”

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With a Master’s degree in economic planning, You, 63, spent two decades working in the State Council. In 2001, he was named the cabinet’s deputy secretary general, working under then-vice-premier Wen Jiabao on financial issues.

In 2006, You was transferred to oversee the country’s electricity regulatory commission. After just two years, he was transferred back to the State Council as its ministerial ranking deputy secretary general to run the day to day operations of its general office, partnering Li Keqiang – like Wen a future premier – who was the executive deputy premier at the time.

You was in Li’s entourage on his visit to Hong Kong in 2011.

He was appointed Fujian party chief in late 2012, after the leadership transition that saw Xi Jinping took over the helm of the party.

You is the latest of a slew of newcomers to the Politburo to take up key positions in the party.

Many of them were close allies of Xi, including his new chief of staff Ding Xuexiang, personnel chief Chen Xi, Shanghai party boss Li Qiang and Guangdong party boss Li Xi.