Reuters reported Monday the Chinese government has established a “crisis command center” in Shenzhen, the Chinese city closest to Hong Kong.
The center is bypassing Beijing’s normal bureaucracy, and may even force a change of leadership in the official Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government in Hong Kong because the crisis managers are allegedly unhappy with the current senior official’s performance.
“The Liaison Office has been mingling with the rich people and mainland elites in the city and isolated itself from the people. This needs to be changed,” an unnamed Chinese official told Reuters, signaling a possible replacement for Wang Zhimin, currently the top official at the office.
The apparent reason for handling these decisions through a low-profile command center in Shenzhen – according to Reuters, it operates out of a nondescript villa on the outskirts of the city – is that Beijing does not want to admit its posture toward Hong Kong might change in the wake of an electoral landslide last weekend that wiped out most of the semi-autonomous city’s pro-Beijing legislators.
Losing the legislature is technically not a huge setback for Beijing’s control of the city, since local officials have little real power, but it was profoundly embarrassing for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and wiped out their preferred narrative about a tiny band of malcontents and foreign puppets sustaining a protest movement that most “normal” Hong Kongers have come to despise. On the contrary, pro-democracy forces romped through the legislative elections and the winning candidates included some important figures in the protest movement.
The CCP took a few half-hearted stabs at blaming its election debacle on foreign influence or “dirty tricks” by the protest movement, and even tried telling the protesters they should end their resistance now that they won a symbolic election victory, but the Shenzhen crisis command center does not appear confident any of those tactics will work.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry strongly denied Reuters’ reporting and went so far as to file “solemn representations” with the news agency about its “false report” of a secretive Shenzhen command center.
“No matter how the situation in Hong Kong changes, the Chinese government’s determination to safeguard national sovereignty, security, and development interests is unwavering,” the Foreign Ministry insisted on Tuesday.
The Washington Post on Tuesday cited analysts who doubted Beijing will substantially alter its strategy toward Hong Kong, even if it makes personnel changes in the liaison office as Reuters suggested, and noted Beijing-approved Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam made no significant changes in her position after the massive pro-democracy election victory over the weekend.