My Take

Lost chance to have a friend of Hong Kong in high places

Instead of reaching out to Zhang Xiaoming when he was liaison office chief, we made him our enemy. He’s now in a position of real power and we know what he thinks about us

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 September, 2017, 1:39am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 September, 2017, 8:54pm

Zhang Xiaoming’s five years as head of Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong roughly coincided with the tenure of former chief executive Leung Chun-ying.

The two, therefore, were often taken as two sides of the same coin, which was the increasingly hard line taken by the central government towards Hong Kong.

Moderate academic or tough hardliner: which was Zhang Xiaoming?

As Leung’s popularity hit rock bottom, so too did public antipathy towards the liaison office, especially Zhang himself. When Zhang was promoted to director of the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office in Beijing, criticism and even personal attacks came from the opposition. This may be understandable, but unfair. It is also against Hong Kong’s interests.

Despite his high-sounding title in Hong Kong, he didn’t set policy: he was merely a messenger for the central government. But in his new position, he will have direct influence on policy towards Hong Kong.

We didn’t make him our friend, though, but went out of our way to make him an enemy.

This reflects the profound immaturity and lack of foresight among leaders of the opposition.

Over the past five years, the liaison office has come to be referred to as “Western”, owing to the district in which it is located and because it has, allegedly, become the “real” power centre, rather than the Hong Kong government.

Zhang and Leung were on the same page when it came to the 79-day Occupy protests in 2014, the State Council white paper that set out the limits of the government’s political reform, independence, and political polarisation.

‘Intolerable’: top official takes aim at Hong Kong independence calls

But now, there is a big difference between the two. Leung is a vice-chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, which notionally makes him a state leader but is essentially an advisory and ceremonial post. Zhang is in a position of real influence when it comes to the central government’s policy towards Hong Kong.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said it was pointless to speculate whether the head of the liaison office was a hawk or a dove when the position of the central government hadn’t changed from one director to the next.

That may be so, but it is not pointless to speculate about those in charge of Hong Kong affairs under the State Council. And we know exactly what one of them thinks about us.