Hong Kong owes top Beijing negotiator Lu Ping a debt of gratitude

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 May, 2015, 3:13am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 May, 2015, 3:13am

Of all the influential mainland officials responsible for Hong Kong's return to Chinese sovereignty, Lu Ping stands out as one of the most high profile. The former director of the State Council's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office was not just an authoritative voice on the city's affairs, he also oversaw, from beginning to end, Hong Kong's transition from a British colony to Special Administrative Region of China. Lu, 87, passed away in a Beijing hospital on Sunday. As the flow of tributes shows, he was receptive to views from across the political spectrum. He continued to show his care for the city even after retirement. He will be remembered as a true friend of Hong Kong.

The local public was probably most impressed by his straight-talking style. During the height of the Sino-British war of words over the electoral reform initiated by Chris Patten, news headlines were often dominated by his tough rhetoric, including his criticism of the former governor as "a sinner for 1,000 years". He also queried the hefty spending on the new airport by the colonial government.

Lu is to be commended for his role in fulfilling the unprecedented venture of steering a colonial capitalistic city to Chinese rule. He was one of the few officials involved in the drafting of the Sino-British Joint Declaration, the Basic Law and many more arrangements put in place to ensure a smooth transition. That Hong Kong remains a stable and prosperous city today owes much to those who have played a part in laying the foundation for continuity. Lu is no doubt at the forefront of those responsible for this achievement.

After retiring in 1997, he still showed strong commitment to the city's well-being. He kept track of the public pulse and even the city's economic health by reading eight or nine local newspapers and checking the Hang Seng Index every day.

The extensive news coverage of his death speaks volumes of his relevance to Hong Kong. That tributes came from across the political spectrum is even more telling. Hong Kong has gone through tremendous changes over the past 18 years. But some of Lu's observations still resonate. In an interview with this newspaper in 2009, he warned that the city was being marginalised by rapid economic development on the mainland. We should, he said, stop relying on favours and improve our competitiveness. His advice should be food for thought as we develop along the principle of one country, two systems.