China Liaison Office Director Zhang Xiaoming has travelled to Beijing as rumours circulate over whether he will be removed from his post. His trip comes a week after Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying announced he would not seek a second term.
After Leung made the surprise announcement last Friday, Zhang has been skipping official events including the opening ceremony of the Hong Kong Brands & Products Expo last Saturday, the Nanjing Massacre National Memorial Day ceremony on Tuesday, as well as the gala dinner of the Government Employees Association on Thursday.
The China Liaison Office later confirmed that Zhang is in Beijing to attend a conference on the economic policies of the Central Government.
On Thursday, the Epoch Times published a report claiming that Zhang is now being “lectured” in Beijing. It cited a source close to Zhongnanhai – the headquarters of the Chinese government – and speculated that Zhang will be dismissed after his close ally, Song Lin, was accused of corruption.
It wrote: “Authorities loyal to [President] Xi Jinping have determined that they will replace Zhang. He will be removed first, before being held accountable. Xi Jinping’s office has been sending officials to inspect Hong Kong and to arrange his successor.”
Sing Pao crusade
Sing Pao, a pro-Beijing newspaper, has been publishing front-page editorials criticising Leung and Zhang for teaming up to “incite” the Hong Kong independence movement. The newspaper claimed on Tuesday that Zhang will soon be stripped of power as Xi prepares to eradicate a powerful section within the Communist Party.
The newspaper also accused the duo of destabilising the territory and expanding their political syndicate with the tacit approval of senior Chinese official Zhang Dejiang, an ally of ex-leader Jiang Zemin and rival of Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Zhang has frequently been criticised by pan-democratic lawmakers for interfering in Hong Kong’s internal affairs. Alan Leong Kah-kit, a veteran politician of the pro-democracy Civic Party, said on Thursday that the next chief executive will need to solve the problem of “Sai Wan ruling Hong Kong.” Sai Wan is the metonym for the Beijing’s Liaison Office in Hong Kong, which is located there.
In September, the China Liaison Office said it was normal for Beijing to care about Hong Kong’s elections, responding to accusations that it was meddling in recent elections. Following September’s legislative elections, lawmaker Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee paid a visit to the office.
In November, Zhang said that patriotism should be added to the list of Hong Kong’s core values, and that Hong Kong’s judiciary cannot override the central government.
In September last year, he also made a controversial comment that the chief executive is above legislative, executive and judicial powers.