On Sept. 27 1993, the Chinese government arrested a former colleague of mine, Xi Yang (
The importance of the Xinhua News Agency is not related to its journalism, but to its political role in Hong Kong.
Everybody knows all too well that Xinhua was not only a news agency in Hong Kong, but actually served as the China's de facto embassy, or more precisely, the underground government and local headquarters of the Chinese Communist Party, both before and after 1997.
Xinhua had been operating under a veil of secrecy for more than 52 years in Hong Kong. It was well known that the Chinese leadership in 1949 authorized the branch to serve as its contact with the British colonial government in the absence of formal relations. In fact, the Xinhua office had been run by its first director, Qiao Guanhua (
Xu Jiatun (
It is only now that Beijing has decided to change the office's name to represent its longstanding status as a political organ -- it is now called the Liaison Office of the Central People's Government (
At the renaming ceremony Jiang Enzhu (
This statement sounds reasonable enough. But why bother changing the name at all, and why now?
According to news reports, an anonymous senior government official confirmed the widely acknowledged "secret" that the several hundred Xinhua employees in Hong Kong are Chinese government officials. Another 80 to 90 people actually do work as journalists for Xinhua in a separate editorial office, he clarified.
That is what we journalists used to refer to "Big Xinhua" (
Does this mean we can expect the Xinhua News Agency in Hong Kong to be more journalistically professional in the future? If so, would its "political role" be less than that of the other branches around the world, thus fulfilling the promise of "one country, two systems (
The answers to both questions are "no" and "no."
But the renaming does have an important political point. It is an announcement that Hong Kong and Macau are both now territories belonging to China and therefore Xinhua no longer needs to serve a diplomatic role.
At best, the change can be seen as a step toward "democracy with Chinese characteristics." Instead of a single "party-state-media" entity (
But what the name change proves above all else, is that Beijing will make decisions directly without any reference to its new territories.
Only when a Hong Kong newspaper broke the news on Jan. 15 did the people -- including officials -- in Hong Kong and Macau know that the name of Xinhua was going to change.
Hong Kong's National Peoples's Congress local deputy (
In fact, Tung Chee-hua (
And just what are the Liaison Office's responsibilities? According to a Xinhua dispatch, the office will:
* liaise with the office of the commissioner of the Foreign Affairs Ministry and with the Hong Kong Garrison;
* liaise with and help PRC authorities supervise China-funded organizations;
* liaise with members of all the professions in the SAR, foster cross-border exchanges and reflect the views of Hong Kong people to the PRC government;
* deal with affairs related to Taiwan; and
* handle "central government tasks."
Though, for the most part, the central Chinese government has maintained a hands-off policy in dealing with the territory over the past two-and-a-half years, many critics said that this is because Tung has "decided" everything according to the will of Beijing.
It is hardly surprising that Tung Chee-hua, a successful and well-known businessman but a hesitant politician, has been accused of being a "yes-man" to Beijing. Local officials have complained that he never discussed with them whether Hong Kong should apply to be host of the next Asian Games. His decision to do so was to create a platform for China's athletes. This might also answer the question why Tung didn't think the Liaison Office's responsibilities will "impinge on Hong Kong's autonomy" -- there isn't much left to impinge on.
In an old joke about Mao Zedong (
Cheryl Lai (
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