In a visit that resembled that of Premier Wen Jiabao last year, senior party official Liu Yandong presented a new image of the Beijing leadership to Hong Kong. On her first official trip, Ms Liu hugged children and mingled with the elderly during her five-day stay. The rest of the schedule for the director of the Communist Party's United Front Work Department was packed with wining and dining pro-Beijing figures and the business and professional sectors. Speaking as softly and candidly as Mr Wen, Ms Liu propounded a familiar and consistent theme: unity and harmony, more efforts to revitalise the economy and less bickering about politics. She steered clear of controversy and avoided harsh rhetoric about sensitive issues such as independence and patriotism. Questioned by journalists about the controversy surrounding the departure of radio talk-show host Allen Lee Peng-fei, she stuck to the official line on freedom of speech. Economic data released last week was further proof that the economy has turned around. Given her close links to Hong Kong affairs, Ms Liu must have observed feelings of hostility, mistrust and tension running through society and between Hong Kong and Beijing in the past. But if her visit, which coincided with the Buddha's Finger exhibition, was aimed at promoting social harmony, she left town without much success. Her failure to meet pro-democracy politicians was a missed chance to change the 'feel-bad' factor cloaking the political scene. Worse still, remarks made by Mr Lee that he had decided to quit as stand-in host of the Commercial Radio programme Teacup in a Storm after a perceived threat from a man claiming to be a former mainland official, highlighted the damaging divide-and-rule tactics of the mainland authorities. One month after the national legislature's ruling on universal suffrage, Ms Liu's visit was a clear initiative to heal the rift between Hong Kong and Beijing. Opinion surveys show public perception of the central government has worsened since last year because of the electoral decisions. In contrast with optimistic sentiments over the economy, pessimism over the political environment must have made a deep impression on Ms Liu, whose mission was to unite whomever she could. It may be unrelated, but the visit of Mr Wen last year was followed by the July 1 protest. Yesterday, thousands attended the annual march commemorating the Tiananmen pro-democracy movement, marking the start of a season of protests culminating on July 1.