Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam (林鄭月娥) yesterday replaced five senior officials, including the official overseeing ties with Beijing, in the biggest Cabinet reshuffle since hundreds of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets last year demanding her resignation.
Lam named Hong Kong Director of Immigration Erick Tsang (曾國衛) to replace Patrick Nip (聶德權) as Hong Kong secretary for constitutional and mainland affairs and appointed Nip as secretary for the civil service — two agencies at the center of Beijing’s demands for greater political loyalty from the former British colony.
The heads of the Financial Services and the Treasury Bureau, the Innovation and Technology Bureau, and the Home Affairs Bureau were also replaced.
Lam told a news conference that she hoped the changes would help lay the ground for the territory’s recovery from a year of protests and pandemic.
“This reshuffle is aimed at taking us forward,” Lam said.
The appointments were announced earlier by Xinhua news agency, which said that the Chinese State Council had approved the nominations, as required for all top positions in Hong Kong.
The move comes as the territory tackles a second wave of COVID-19 cases while trying to soften the pandemic’s blow to the economy.
Hong Kong has also been battered into recession by the US-China trade dispute, and months of historically large and often violent protests that erupted in opposition to Lam’s effort to allow the transfer of criminal suspects to the mainland.
While Lam has said her government deserves the blame for the “entire unrest,” Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) has continued to back her and she has refused calls to resign.
Lam’s approval has risen from historic lows in part due to her early success in managing the coronavirus outbreak, with 18 percent supporting her in a Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute survey released on Tuesday, compared with 9.1 percent in February.
The reshuffle follows Xi’s own shakeup of the agencies that oversee Hong Kong, which was guaranteed a “high degree of autonomy” after its return to Chinese rule in 1997.
Nip apologized earlier this week for causing “confusion” and “misunderstanding” with a series of contradictory news releases from the Hong Kong Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau attempting to explain a claim by the Hong Kong Liaison Office that it has the authority to supervise Hong Kong’s local affairs.
Meanwhile, his replacement, Tsang, received fresh scrutiny for giving a recent interview with a portrait of Xi over his shoulder.
Under Tsang’s watch, the immigration department in 2018 denied a visa renewal for Financial Times journalist Victor Mallet after he hosted an event at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club featuring the founder of a banned pro-independence party.
Lam said that reshuffle was “completely and entirely unrelated” to recent events.
She deflected a question about the Xi portrait, saying Tsang was chosen because of his capabilities.
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