Reshuffle points to new HK policiesEditorial | Mary Ma 14 Feb 2020
Beijing's moves to reshuffle the leadership of both the virus-stricken Hubei province and the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office were somehow anticipated.
The sacking of Hubei party secretary Jiang Chaoliang was all but inevitable as the central government attempted to pacify angry masses.
But if Jiang's removal was due to the current epidemic that is still spreading, the demotion of HKMAO director Zhang Xiaoming was overdue.
And it points to the central government preparing a new direction and revised policies for Hong Kong.
The reshuffle at HKMAO was predicted the moment Zhang's counterpart at the Central Government's Liaison Office in Hong Kong, Wang Zhimin, was removed from the city completely to take up a low-profile job dealing with party history in a small office in the capital.
Zhang's demotion was a kind of punishment that certainly had nothing to do with the SAR's less-than-impressive handling of the Wuhan virus outbreak. But it had everything to do with months of anti-government protests ignited by Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor's since-shelved extradition bill.
Zhang's replacement, Xia Baolong is 68-years-old - about two years older than Luo Huining whose appointment to replace Wang as the No 1 at the central liaison office in Hong Kong a little over a month ago surprised everyone in town.
Although age could be a matter of concern, both men have the credentials of having worked closely with President Xi Jinping in the past.
Currently a vice chairman of the country's top advisory body, the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, Xia was formerly party secretary of Zhejiang province. When he was still a deputy party secretary in Zhejiang, Xi was his boss.
There are a few major points to note in the reshuffle.
One, the central government's system of hierarchy overseeing the two special administrative regions - Hong Kong in particular - is largely beefed up. Xia, as a CPPCC vice chairman, ranks within the state leadership cluster whereas Zhang, now Xia's subordinate, belongs to the ministerial grade only.
Two, the function of the Central Coordination Group for Hong Kong and Macau Affairs - officially under the command of Politburo Standing Committee member Han Zheng - becomes more than a coordination role, now providing leadership over business related to the two special regions.
While it has always been the case of the latter in practice, that will be strengthened further.
In addition to Zhang's demotion to deputy, the central government's top representatives in the SARs - Luo in Hong Kong and Fu Ziying in Macau - are being made deputy directors of HKMAO at the same time. That did not happen in the past.
Prior to the reshuffle, the hierarchy in relation to Hong Kong and Macau affairs was a little confusing in the sense that the directors in all three bodies - namely HKMAO and the two liaison offices in Hong Kong and Macau - were of the same rank in the central government, which raised the question of who was the boss.
The confusion is now cleared following Xia's appointment, making it clear that the liaison offices are junior.
After the reshuffle, one may expect Beijing to modify its policy towards Hong Kong too.