Beijing names Xi ally to oversee Hong Kong

Cheryl Sanders
February 14, 2020

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

Senior Beijing official Xia Baolong, now secretary-general at the national committee of China's top political advisory body, was promoted to director while Zhang Xiaoming was re-appointed as a deputy in charge of daily operations at the office.

"As we continue to evaluate our operation between our USA hubs and Beijing, Chengdu, Shanghai and Hong Kong, we have made a decision to extend the suspension of those flights until April 24".

"The importance is not their lack of Hong Kong experience but their closeness and loyalty to Xi", said Hong Kong-based political commentator Sonny Lo, who said the new team could engineer changes in Hong Kong officials and policies, using possible handouts and improved social welfare as sweeteners.

The State Council added that Luo Huining, head of Beijing's liaison office in Hong Kong, and Fu Ziying, who heads the Macau liaison office, will also be given the roles of deputy director while still keeping their existing positions.

Jean-Pierre Cabestan, a political science professor at Hong Kong Baptist University, said 67-year-old Xia served as deputy to President Xi Jinping when was party secretary of Zhejiang province.

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

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

A campaign in 2015 to tear down underground Christian churches in China's eastern province of Zhejiang, part of a wider clampdown on unregistered places of worship under Xi, gave Xia a reputation as a hardliner.

Hong Kong's worldwide schools are bracing for an exodus of families from the city, with some warning they may have to shut for good after the government suspended classes to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Speculation has also swirled that Beijing may be preparing to replace Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam when matters settle down.

SpiceJet will finally discontinue its daily Delhi-Hong Kong flight from Saturday (February 16). The gaming hub, meanwhile, has been forced to temporarily close its casinos.

Xia's appointment came as much of the region was focused on China's sudden replacement of top officials in virus-stricken Hubei.

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