BEIJING – Xia Baolong was named on Thursday as the new head of China’s Hong Kong and Macao office, according to state news agency Xinhua.
Xia, who was working as the vice chairman of the government’s top advisory body until now, is considered close to President Xi Jinping and replaces Zhang Xiaoming, who was reappointed as the deputy director and in-charge of “daily operations.”
Xia had been the vice president of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference since 2018.
Born in 1952 in Tianjin, a city where he served as the deputy mayor, in 2003 Xia was appointed the deputy secretary of the Communist Party of China in the eastern Zhejiang province by Xi, who was the CPC secretary in the province at the time.
Xia later served as the governor of Zhejiang and the party secretary in the province between 2012 and 2017.
The sustained protests taking place in Hong Kong since last year and the landslide victory of pro-democratic parties in the local elections there in November, are being seen as possible reasons behind the appointment of Xia.
The decision comes a month after Chinese authorities announced the appointment of Luo Huining – former CPC secretary in the northern Shanxi region – as the new director of the Hong Kong liaison office, the official body that represents Beijing in the city.
Luo replaced Wang Zhimin as the director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office under the State Council.
Wang was appointed to the post in 2017 and was supposedly dismissed for “misjudging” the situation in Hong Kong, according to state broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK).
Mass protests have continued since people first took to the streets of Hong Kong on 9 June, sparked by a controversial extradition bill that was the government eventually withdrew.
But the movement continued to grow, and it seeks to bolster Hong Kong’s democratic mechanisms and reject Beijing’s authoritarianism.
Some of the demonstrators have adopted tactics that are more radical than peaceful protest, and violent clashes with the police have not been uncommon.
The months-long protests have put Hong Kong’s economy in recession for the first time in a decade, as it contracted 1.2 percent in 2019, due to a drop in imports and exports, in retail sales and by decreasing tourism figures.