Fri, Nov 29, 2019 - Page 9 News List

China sets up Hong Kong crisis center in mainland

Visits to the center in Shenzhen have been followed by top-level action in the territory, including Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s suspension of a controversial extradition bill

By Keith Zhai, James Pomfret and David Kirton  /  Reuters, HONG KONG and SHENZHEN, China

Illustration: Mountain People

Tightening control over efforts to manage the upheaval in Hong Kong, the Chinese leadership has set up a crisis command center on the mainland side of the border and is considering replacing its official liaison to the restive semi-autonomous territory, people familiar with the matter said.

As violent protests roil Hong Kong, top Chinese leaders in the past few months have been managing their response from a villa on the outskirts of Shenzhen, bypassing the formal bureaucracy through which Beijing has supervised the financial hub for two decades.

Ordinarily, communications between Beijing and Hong Kong are conducted through a Chinese government body: the Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government in Hong Kong. The office is housed in a Hong Kong skyscraper stacked with surveillance cameras, ringed by steel barricades and topped by a reinforced glass globe.

In a sign of dissatisfaction with the office’s handling of the crisis, Beijing is considering potential replacements for the body’s director, Wang Zhimin (王志民), two people familiar with the situation said.

Wang is the most senior mainland political official stationed in Hong Kong.

The office has come in for criticism in Hong Kong and China for misjudging the situation in the territory.

“The Liaison Office has been mingling with the rich people and mainland elites in the city and isolated itself from the people,” a Chinese official said. “This needs to be changed.”

The office might face increased pressure after voters on Sunday delivered a resounding defeat to pro-Beijing parties in Hong Kong district elections. Pro-democracy candidates won almost 90 percent of the seats, securing their first ever majority after running a campaign against Beijing’s perceived encroachments on Hong Kong’s liberties.

The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Office in Hong Kong called the report “false,” without elaborating, in a statement posted on its Web site on Tuesday.

“No matter how the situation in Hong Kong changes, the Chinese government’s determination to safeguard national sovereignty, security and development interests is unwavering,” it said.

The statement said that China was committed to the “one country, two systems” policy that governs Hong Kong’s affairs and was opposed to “external forces” interfering in the territory’s affairs.

The Chinese State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office and the liaison office in Hong Kong did not reply to faxed requests for comment.

The office of Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam (林鄭月娥) declined to comment for this story.

The crisis center is in the secluded Bauhinia Villa (紫荊山莊), a property owned by the liaison office, according to sources and official media, and named after the orchid that adorns the Hong Kong flag and currency. Being just across Hong Kong’s border with the mainland, it has served as a crisis center before: Senior Chinese officials stayed at the resort during the pro-democracy Occupy Central protests that rocked Hong Kong in 2014.

Top mainland officials have been gathering at the leafy compound to plot strategy and issue instructions aimed at defusing the crisis, according to six people familiar with the matter.

Beijing authorities have been summoning key Hong Kong officials to meet at the villa during the five months of the increasingly violent anti-government protests, the sources said.

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