A closer look at who joined Xi Jinping’s meeting with CY Leung reveals what awaits Hong Kong
Efficient internal communication and cooperation between local and mainland departments expected as unity in city sought
While many have tried to interpret President Xi Jinping’s final appraisal of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying during his last duty visit to Beijing in late December, a closer look at those who attended the meeting can also be telling.
Key members of the Central Coordination Group for Hong Kong and Macau Affairs were present: its head and chairman of the National People’s Congress, Zhang Dejiang; vice-president Li Yuanchao; state councillor in charge of foreign affairs Yang Jiechi; and Sun Chunlan, head of the party’s United Front Work Department. Also in attendance, of course, were Wang Guangya, director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office (HKMAO) under the State Council, and Zhang Xiaoming, Beijing’s top envoy to Hong Kong.
The meeting included a non-member of the group: Li Zhanshu, a top aide to Xi who is the director of the General Office of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee and the chief of the General Office of the National Security Commission. Li is routinely seen with Xi at important meetings.
While the composition of the gathering was not unexpected for the chief executive’s annual duty report to the president, it nevertheless showed that, in the eyes of Beijing, “Hong Kong affairs” is not just about the city alone but touches on many aspects.
Hongkongers are more familiar with the HKMAO and liaison office – the two offices directly implementing Beijing’s policies and decisions in the city. However, the presence in particular of Li Zhanshu, dubbed the very trusted “Daneizongguan”, or Xi’s “chief of staff”, is significant.
Li is the first person to head the Central Committee’s General Office as a member of the powerful Politburo.
A strong advocate of Xi’s ongoing anti-corruption campaign, his career rose to new heights when he was appointed to head the daily work of the National Security Commission, set up and headed by Xi three years ago. Li is widely tipped for promotion to the Standing Committee of the Politburo – the core of the party leadership – in the coming 19th party congress this year.
With Li’s presence, it is understood that Xi’s personal supervision on major issues will be fully followed.
Meanwhile, Li’s role in the party’s National Security Commission ensures better cooperation among different departments as the commission covers the military, public security, foreign affairs and intelligence gathering among other duties.
As Hong Kong is the most internationalised city in the country, Beijing is very much concerned about the influence of possible “external” forces through various means. The city could also be caught up in diplomatic spats such as the Edward Snowden saga and the Singapore military vehicles case, which has yet to be resolved.
Dealing with this kind of complexity without undermining the “one country, two systems” policy requires efficient internal communication and cooperation between Hong Kong and departments across the border.
Another participant worth noting in that gathering in the capital is the only woman, Sun Chunlan, who joined for the first time. Sun is the head of the party’s United Front Work Department and was actually appointed in 2015 as Zhang Dejiang’s second deputy, after Li Yuanchao, in the Central Coordination Group on Hong Kong. It means this important party department is now officially supervising Hong Kong matters as well. Beijing has emphasised a “united front” to rally public support by relationship building with different sectors, including those overseas such as in Hong Kong and Macau.
One little episode during Leung’s meeting with Xi could well illustrate Beijing’s latest approach: after reiterating the need to firmly crack down on any independence attempt “according to the law”, Xi asked Leung to convey his best New Year wishes to Hongkongers.
This year will surely see more timely policy adjustments by Beijing for the city, taking into overall consideration both domestic and international factors, so as to achieve the goal of isolating independence advocates while uniting as many Hongkongers as possible.
It has started by appointing a career diplomat and a legal expert as the new deputy directors of the HKMAO.