A guessing game is on in Macau after Beijing’s top envoy in the former Portuguese enclave plunged to his death from his high-rise condo on Saturday evening.

Zheng Xiaosong, director of the Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government in the Macau Special Administrative Region, was found unconscious in the courtyard of an apartment building in the Freguesia da Sé district of Macau, not far from the Liaison Office complex. He is believed to have leapt from his home on a high floor of the building, whose tenants are mostly mainland officials.

Zheng was reportedly certified dead by paramedics at scene.

The Chinese State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office issued a 91-word statement on Sunday morning that Zheng, 59, had jumped to his death because of depression. It added that the office had dispatched officials to Macau to console Zheng’s family.

No further details were given about Zheng’s condition before his death.

bbbjb42-_Lo2ZIMih8Uaoz8nzZbpBEn0n064Gp9OuBo
Zheng Xiaosong (left) and Macau’s Chief Executive Fernando Chui. Photo: Handout
2016-12-31_13-12-11
Beijing’s Liaison Office in Macau. Photo: Handout

Local police, however, said the case was still being investigated. While the director of the Judiciary Police ruled out foul play, he refused to speculate on the cause of the suicide, even after Beijing had already blamed depression for Zheng’s sudden passing.

The Hong Kong-based Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy cited a source as saying that Zheng had been questioned by graft busters from the Communist Party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection before the incident.

Members of Macau’s pro-establishment bloc told Apple Daily that rumors had been swirling for several months that Zheng was “severely ill” and his deputies were in charge of the daily running of the Liaison Office.

Zheng assumed his current position at the head of the Liaison Office, a ministerial-level post, in September 2017. Since then, there have been no reports of him showing any signs of suffering from depression. He met with representatives from a local think-tank and exhorted them to “love Macau and love the country” a day before the fatal fall from his home.

Those who attended the meeting told reporters that they sensed nothing strange about Zheng, although some said his voice sounded slightly weaker than normal.

Zheng’s death has come at a sensitive juncture when Chinese President Xi Jinping is scheduled to officiate at a much-hyped inauguration ceremony to open the 55-kilometer Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge, the world’s longest sea-crossing, to traffic as soon as this Tuesday.

Zheng would have been expected to join Macau Chief Executive Fernando Chui, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam, and Communist Party cadres from neighboring Guangdong province to welcome Xi to inspect the cross-border bridge.

Zheng’s suicide will cast a somber mood over the unveiling of the new bridge link.

Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge Photo: Xinhua
Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge Photo: Xinhua

The Oxford-educated Zheng started his career as a diplomat and rose through the ranks to assume a supporting role in Beijing’s talks with London regarding Hong Kong’s handover during the 1990s.

He was then transferred to the Ministry of Finance and was the deputy director of the Communist Party’s International Liaison Department before being posted to Macau.

Observers point out that Zheng’s predecessor in Macau fell afoul of party discipline watchdogs for accepting bribes and there have long been allegations of collusion between Chinese officials and business and casino operators in Macau.

Some have also called into question Beijing’s checks on the health and integrity of principal officials, if the conclusion that Zheng’s suicide was due to poor mental health is to be believed.

Read more: World’s longest bridge linking HK to Macau, Zhuhai set to open