Peking had decided to appoint Mr Ma as Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region from 1 July, a ministry spokesman said. Mr Ma and the garrison commander, General Liu, Zhenwu will be Peking's most senior officials in Hong Kong after the handover.
Hong Kong's domestic affairs will be run by Hong Kong residents after the handover, but foreign affairs and defence will remain the central government's turf. Mr Ma, 62, has been vice-minister of the Information Office of the State Council - or cabinet - since 1995. He served as Chinese ambassador to Britain in 1991-95, consul-general in Los Angeles in 1988- 91, and director of the Foreign Ministry's information department in 1984- 88. "Ma Yuzhen belongs to the new generation of diplomats ... He's open- minded," said a former diplomat. China's old generation of diplomats consisted mainly of generals and bureaucrats.
In 1995, Hong Kong's South China Morning Post described Mr Ma as "the sort of Chinese diplomat Western capitals love to play host to, affable, charming and not averse to talking quietly off-the-record with politicians and businessmen". He was a "well-liked senior diplomat, a favourite of Lady Thatcher," the Post said.
The Hong Kong government welcomed the announcement. "The community will be glad that the appointment of Mr Ma Yuzhen has been announced," the government said in a statement. "Hong Kong people will no doubt be interested to hear more details of the establishment of this new office, including the size of its staff and its functions." the statement said.
Yeung Sum, vice-chairman of the Democratic Party, said Mr Ma's diplomatic experience in London and his understanding of the handover issues made him an appropriate person for the job.