Beijing names new HK boss

Top News | Michael Shum 14 Feb 2020

The Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office chief, Zhang Xiaoming, has been demoted in a major reshuffle following Hong Kong's seven-month unrest, and will be replaced by a close ally of President Xi Jinping.

Zhang will be replaced by the hardline former Zhejiang chief, Xia Baolong, who was handpicked by Xi to head the office and gained prominence when he tore off crosses during a crackdown on Christian churches.

The 67-year-old Xia will become the office's director while keeping his position in the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference as secretary general of the national committee.

Zhang was demoted to deputy to handle day-to-day operations.

The Liaison Office chief in Hong Kong, Luo Huining, and Macau chief Fu Ziying will also serve concurrently as the office's deputy chiefs for the first time.

Zhang's demotion follows Beijing's move in January to replace Wang Zhimin with Luo Huining as the head of its Hong Kong Liaison Office.

But Zhang will keep his rank as a provincial-ministerial level official, the State Council said in a statement.

Zhang's successor, Xia, served as Xi's deputy when Xi was Communist Party secretary of Zhejiang province from 2003 to 2007.

Willy Lam Wo-lap, a commentator on Chinese politics, said that Xia and Xi have maintained a close relationship and he thinks Xi will have more direct control over Hong Kong affairs in the future.

"I expect stricter control over Hong Kong after Xia takes office, as Xia was known for tearing crosses from the roof during the crackdown on Christian churches while he was the Communist Party chief of Zhejiang province, giving him a reputation as a hard-liner," Lam said. "Xi now has his proteges in place over Hong Kong for the first time," said Jean-Pierre Cabestan, a professor of political science at the Hong Kong Baptist University.

"While that may give Hong Kong face, it is certainly going to put Hong Kong under more political pressure," Cabestan said.

"Xia is not a moderate and he has shown himself to be a zealous servant of Xi Jinping. We can expect that to continue."

Sonny Lo Shiu-hing, also a commentator on China politics, said: "The reshuffling at this interesting moment may point to a deep distrust from Xi Jinping toward the former faction dealing with Hong Kong affairs."

"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 towards Hong Kong."

China watcher Bruce Lui Ping-kuen said: "This implies that all information will now go directly to Beijing, which shows that the central government blames the unrest on the execution of the policies, instead of the policy itself."

He added that the personnel change does not mean that the central government is more open-minded on Hong Kong governance, but stricter controls should be expected while measures become swifter and more vigorous.

The next step might possibly be reorganizing the SAR government, Lui said, which might include Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, as her performance did not even meet the standard for mainland officials.

"What Lam had done is enough for her to step down 10 times from her position," Lui said.

Lam welcomed Xia as the new chief of the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs office: "It is a testimony to the importance the central government attaches to Hong Kong and Macau affairs," she said.

Pro-Beijing heavyweight Tam Yiu-chung echoed this, saying that Beijing is now attaching more importance to the two SARS. Tam said: "It is hard for me to guess what Beijing is thinking of, but when a top official takes up a job at a ministerial level, it obviously makes people feel that Beijing is taking Hong Kong and Macau affairs more seriously."

Tam added that making the head of the Liaison Office in both SARs deputies is to include both offices into the same structure, which in turn would lead to easier coordination between them.

Editorial: Reshuffle points to new HK policies

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