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China Mulling Changes After Crippling Election Defeat in Hong Kong

2019-11-26 -- Following Sunday's landslide election victory for pro-democracy groups in Hong Kong's district elections, the ruling Chinese Communist Party may be looking to replace its Central Liaison Office chief in the city, media reports and analysts said on Tuesday.

Beijing is considering potential replacements for office director Wang Zhimin, Reuters reported, citing two people familiar with the situation.

The office has come in for criticism in Hong Kong and China for misjudging the situation in the city, the report said.

"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 told the agency. "This needs to be changed."

Pro-democracy candidates won more than 80 percent of District Council seats after a record three million voters turned out in a ringing endorsement of the broader aims of the pro-democracy movement.

Since the movement gripped Hong Kong in early June, state-run Chinese media has tried to characterize the anti-extradition movement, which later broadened to include demands for full democracy and an independent inquiry into police violence, as the work of a handful of pro-independence radicals bent on wreaking havoc at the instigation of "hostile foreign forces."

Part of the official narrative has been the presumed existence of a "silent majority" who support the government and police, love China, and are angry with the long-running disruption to their daily lives and the use of force by frontline protesters.

'Extremely dissatisfied'

Sunday's election result gave the lie to that view, but analysts said it is entirely possible that officials in Beijing were told this by local respresentatives and believed it.

"Beijing is extremely dissatisfied with Sunday's election result," Chinese University of Hong Kong expert Willy Lam told RFA. "They didn't expect the pro-Beijing parties to lose so badly, so now they are looking for someone to blame."

"Wang Zhimin's performance over the past few months has been relatively poor, because he hasn't been able to unite the so-called pro-Beijing forces, including pro-Beijing parties like the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB)," Lam said.

"He wasn't able to unite Hong Kong citizens to attack the protesters," he said. "In the language of Beijing, he should have focused all of his energy on uniting people in the patriotic love of Hong Kong."

According to Reuters, China has set up a crisis command center on the mainland side of the border near Shenzhen from which to manage its response to the protest movement that has rocked the city for five months.

China's foreign ministry representative office in Hong Kong said the Reuters report was "false."

The crisis center is at Bauhinia Villa, a secluded property owned by the Hong Kong Liaison Office and named for the flower that represents Hong Kong in official iconography, Reuters said.

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

In addition, Chinese President Xi Jinping is receiving daily written briefings direct from Bauhinia Villa, it said.

Since one million people took to the streets of Hong Kong in anger at plans by chief executive Carrie Lam to allow extradition to mainland China on June 9, Lam has been authorized to contact the office of vice premier Han Zheng at the villa directly, bypassing the Central Liaison Office.

"Security is tight, with checkpoints, spiked fences topped with barbed wire and numerous surveillance cameras," Reuters said. "At the back is a steep tree-covered hill ringed with fencing, while on another side lies a conference center."

Support from Beijing

Lam admitted on Tuesday that the election results reflected widespread dissatisfaction with her administration, but said she wasn't being held responsible by Beijing, which has repeatedly offered her its support, at least.in public.

"I haven't received any sign that I should be held responsible from the central government," Lam said amid speculation that she could eventually step down.

"Naturally, as the District Council election turned into an expression of anti-government feeling or dissatisfaction with the government, this has had an impact on pro-Beijing candidates."

Democratic Party lawmaker Andrew Wan said Lam's attitude was "shameless."

"I really think this person has no shame at all," Wan said. "If a person is shameless to this extent, then they can't see that they are in fact the main culprit behind the crisis and divisions that are besetting society."

"The demands of citizens are clear: five demands, not one less," he said.

Lam has withdrawn legal amendments that would have allowed extradition to mainland China, but protesters also want fully democratic elections to LegCo and for the post of chief executive, an amnesty for the thousands of people arrested since protests began, an end to the use of the term "rioting," and an independent inquiry into police violence.

'We like it here'

Lam and her officials have repeatedly ruled out meeting any of the other demands, although analysts said economic concessions were likely in the pipeline in a bid to mollify residents.

Officials at Hong Kong Polytechnic University (Poly U), where police have besieged protesters following violent clashes more than a week ago, found just one protester still on the trashed campus, where concerns over deteriorating hygiene and mental health crises had led many to accept arrest just in order to leave, although some managed to escape clandestinely.

The person said they had no plans to leave, however.

"We like it here at Poly U very much," he told journalists in the early hours of Tuesday morning. "We've gotten used to it, and we're happy, so you shouldn't worry about us. We're going to stay here."

The Cross-Harbour Tunnel linking Hong Kong Island and Kowloon is scheduled to reopen on Wednesday for the first time since N. 13, when it was closed for safety reasons as unrest at the university began to escalate.

China's foreign ministry summoned U.S. Ambassador Terry Branstad on Monday to protest against the passing in the US Congress of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, saying it amounted to interference in China's internal affairs.

Vice foreign minister Zheng Zeguang urged the United States "to correct its errors and stop meddling in Hong Kong affairs and interfering in China's internal matters," according to a statement on the ministry website.

Reported by Gao Feng for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Lau Siu-fung for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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