Top Beijing official delays retirement to help rein in pro-independence calls in Hong Kong
Feng Wei, 61, has handled affairs in city for two decades and is well versed in local laws
Despite reaching retirement age last year, a top Beijing official has been asked to stay on at the central government agency overseeing Hong Kong affairs to handle legal issues relating to pro-independence calls in the city.
Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office deputy director Feng Wei was originally expected to step down late last year when he turned 60, the usual age for vice-ministerial officials to leave officialdom.
A source in Hong Kong who is familiar with the situation said Feng, who has been handling the city’s affairs for two decades and is well versed in its laws, was told to remain in his current position until further notice to handle legal issues relating to Hong Kong, particularly on how to rein in the mounting calls for the city to break free from China.
“All personnel changes concerning vice-ministerial officials at central government agencies dealing with Hong Kong and Macau affairs are approved by President Xi Jinping. Feng Wei’s staying on is an indication of the top echelon of the mainland leadership in Beijing taking the growing calls for Hong Kong independence seriously,” the source said.
Feng, who turned 61 last month, is seen as a moderate among the central government corps. He is perceived to favour dialogue with moderate pan-democrats.
A mainland source familiar with Beijing’s handling of Hong Kong affairs said there was no sign Feng would retire soon.
“As a general principle, vice-ministerial officials retire when they turn 60, but some may stay on for some months or even more than a year for special reasons,” the mainland source said.
Executive councillor Ronny Tong Ka-wah, who has known Feng for more than a decade, said it was reasonable for the Beijing official to stay beyond retirement age because he was familiar with Hong Kong affairs and the city’s laws.
“It’s good for Feng to stay on his job for a while because he is moderate and is acquainted with key figures in Hong Kong’s political arena,” Tong said.
He said Feng told him in April last year that he was about to retire.
“But I know he remains active at the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, and some of my friends met him recently,” Tong said.
A graduate of Peking University’s law school, Feng studied English law at the London School of Economics in the early 1990s, and at the law schools of the University of Hong Kong and City University in the mid-1990s. In 1997, he became the first legal affairs department spokesman of the People’s Liberation Army’s Hong Kong garrison.
The senior colonel later joined the central government’s liaison office in Hong Kong and was promoted to director of legal affairs.
In April 2010, Feng held a meeting with Democratic Party leaders. It paved the way for the historic talk between the Democrats and liaison office deputy director Li Gang a month later, which led to an agreement allowing 3.2 million people without a vote in a functional constituency to elect five super-seat lawmakers.
Feng, who was present at the closed-door meeting, became deputy director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office in July 2014.
In August 2015, he met Democratic Party leaders to discuss Hong Kong’s governance and constitutional reform. The meeting was seen as an olive branch from Beijing after the reform plan was voted down in June 2015.
In an exclusive interview with the Post in March 2016, Feng said advocates of separatism and Hong Kong independence were a minority who did not represent the mainstream, but their views had been “magnified”.
He said the central government was looking into the reasons behind the growth of radicalism and the tendency of activists to resort to violent protest methods.
Feng attributed the trend to sluggish economic growth in Hong Kong, noting that Hongkongers’ median income had barely increased in the past two decades while property prices had surged.