China Official Who Tore Down Church Crosses to Oversee Hong Kong

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Karen Leigh and Iain Marlow
·3 min read
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(Bloomberg) -- 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.

Xia Baolong, 67, the vice chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, will replace Zhang Xiaoming as director of the Hong Kong & Macau Affairs Office, the State Council said Thursday. Xia is a former close aide to President Xi Jinping who served as Communist Party chief of Zhejiang province during a crackdown on Christian churches several years ago.

The move follows last month’s appointment of Luo Huining, a cadre known for executing Xi’s anti-corruption campaign, as head of China’s Liaison Office in Hong Kong. The statement announcing Xia’s new title Thursday also made clear for the first time that the chief liaison reports directly to the Hong Kong & Macau Affairs Office. Zhang will become a vice director in charge of “routine work.”

“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, 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 appointment of such a senior official potentially indicates a permanent overhaul in how Beijing manages the former British colony. The Communist Party issued a communique late last year signaling greater intervention in everything from education in Hong Kong to how the city picks its leader.

Xia’s push in 2014 and 2015 to tear down crosses on the roofs of churches in ­the eastern province of 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.

Under Pressure

Hong Kong’s government, having weathered months of mass protests, now faces deepening public distrust over its handling of the spread of a coronavirus outbreak centered on the mainland that’s led to runs on surgical masks and toilet paper and shuttered local schools through March. Chief Executive Carrie Lam has been under pressure from some groups, including health care workers, to fully seal off the border with mainland China.

Though she stopped short of doing so, key checkpoints are largely closed, including the ferry terminal that links Hong Kong and Macau. The gaming hub, meanwhile, has been forced to temporarily close its casinos.

Lam said in a statement Thursday she welcomed Xia’s appointment, adding that it showed “the central government attaches importance to Hong Kong and Macau affairs.”

Xia’s appointment came as much of the region was focused on China’s sudden replacement of top officials in virus-stricken Hubei. On Thursday, China announced it was replacing Jiang Chaoliang, the party’s Hubei secretary.

--With assistance from Li Liu, Dandan Li and Natalie Lung.

To contact the reporters on this story: Karen Leigh in Hong Kong at kleigh4@bloomberg.net;Iain Marlow in Hong Kong at imarlow1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Brendan Scott at bscott66@bloomberg.net

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