Why did Beijing pick ex-assistant foreign minister Nong Rong for Hong Kong affairs agency? Analysts say move rooted in geopolitical tensions

Beijing’s decision to appoint a former assistant foreign minister to help lead its office overseeing Hong Kong affairs is partly due to the geopolitical “hostilities” that the city is battling, according to analysts.

China watchers said the central government could expect Nong Rong, a former assistant minister of foreign affairs, to help the city cultivate ties with the Middle East and Central Asian countries in his new role as deputy director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office (HKMAO).

The country’s State Council, which enacts policy and presides over all government departments, announced its decision on Friday as Nong joined office director Xia Baolong on his fact-finding visit to Hong Kong.

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Nong, 56, previously served as the Chinese ambassador to Pakistan between 2020 and 2023.

Lau Siu-kai, a consultant for Beijing’s semi-official think tank, the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, said Nong’s diplomatic background could prove useful as Hong Kong’s relations with the United States, Britain and the European Union had deteriorated in recent years.

Tensions between the city and the West escalated after Beijing imposed the national security law on Hong Kong in 2020 in response to months-long anti-government protests the year before.

“Having someone who understands the international situation and the challenges Hong Kong faces in the HKMAO will definitely be helpful,” Lau said.

Nong Rong (centre), deputy director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office (HKMAO), arriving at Hong Kong government headquarters in Admiralty. Photo: Yik Yeung-man
“It is not only about handling the relations with the West but also opening up more ‘international space’ for Hong Kong in, among others, the Middle East and Asian countries and those in the Belt and Road Initiative.”

The Belt and Road Initiative refers to Beijing’s ambitious plan to link economies in Asia, Europe and Africa into a China-centred trade network.

Lau said central government officials with backgrounds in foreign affairs had also held positions at the HKMAO, such as former deputy directors Deng Zhonghua and Song Zhe.

The think tank consultant added that he met Nong several months ago when the latter was visiting Hong Kong to learn more about the city and was still serving as an assistant foreign minister.

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Veteran analyst Johnny Lau Yui-siu said Nong could play to his strengths in his new role, especially as the US was expected to become more outspoken against the city’s proposed domestic national security law ahead of American presidential elections in November.

Lau also cited a trend involving Beijing officials with no background in Hong Kong and Macau affairs taking up similar roles, pointing to Xia and Luo Huining’s selection as head of the local liaison office from 2020 to 2023.

“Some people believe it may be a plus as they do not have any connection with the interested parties in Hong Kong and thus can better enforce Beijing’s policies,” he said.

“But others view it in another way, that they would only strictly implement Beijing’s orders as they do not know much about Hong Kong.”

Who is Xia Baolong and what is his fact-finding visit to Hong Kong about?

Lau said Nong had “knowledge of the international situation”, but “questions remain on whether he can swiftly pick up the work in the office”.

Among those joining Xia’s fact-finding trip to Hong Kong are three of the HKMAO’s five deputy directors, with the trio comprising Nong, Wang Linggui and liaison office head Zheng Yanxiong.

The visiting officials are meeting local administrative, business and community leaders to gauge how Hong Kong’s economic development and district governance are faring.

Xia and his team arrived in the city on Thursday and will depart on Wednesday next week.


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