Beijing names Xi ally to oversee Hong Kong

Bloomberg

Fri, Feb 14, 2020 - Page 1

China yesterday named an official known for tearing crosses from the roofs of churches to lead the agency that oversees Hong Kong, in the biggest shake-up yet after months of unrest in the territory.

Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) Vice Chairman Xia Baolong (夏寶龍), 67, is to replace Zhang Xiaoming (張曉明) as director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, the Chinese State Council said, adding that Zhang is to become a vice director.

Xia is a former close aide to Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) and served as Chinese Communist Party (CCP) chief of Zhejiang Province during a crackdown on Christian churches.

Xia’s installation follows last month’s appointment of Luo Huining (駱惠寧) as head of China’s Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government in Hong Kong.

The choice of Luo, a member of a CCP cadre known for executing Xi’s anti-corruption campaign, was seen as a signal of Beijing’s intention to restore order in Hong Kong after months of violent unrest opposing China’s grip on the territory.

“The reshuffling at this interesting moment may point to a deep distrust from Xi Jinping toward the former faction dealing with Hong Kong affairs,” said Sonny Lo (盧兆興), a Hong Kong-based academic and political commentator.

“It’s clear that Xi Jinping wants to have a clear grasp of the situation in Hong Kong — that’s the major point,” Lo added. “We’ll probably see some adjustment in Chinese policy toward Hong Kong.”

The rare appointment of such a senior official potentially signals a permanent overhaul in how Beijing manages the former British colony.

The CCP late last year issued a communique signaling greater intervention in everything from education in Hong Kong to how the territory picks its leader.

Xia’s push in 2014 and 2015 to tear down crosses on the roofs of churches in eastern Zhejiang was widely criticized by the international community. He was subsequently appointed to a leadership role on the CPPCC, the nation’s political advisory body and a post usually seen as a transition toward retirement for senior leaders.