Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks to World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom (not pictured) during their meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Jan. 28. Xi has appointed his favorite officer to handle Hong Kong affairs. (Photo: Naohiko Hatta/AFP)
A political favourite of Chinese President Xi Jinping who ordered the demolition of thousands of crosses in a Chinese province has been appointed director of Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office.The State Council of China announced the appointment of Xia Baolong on Feb. 13. It also demoted its current director Zhang Xiaoming to become Xia’s deputy in charge of “routine works.”The demotion of Zhang is widely seen as punishment for his soft handling of Hong Kong, where pro-democracy protests have been going on for the past eight months.The office functions to link the administrative and cultural policies of China’s central government with the governments of Hong Kong and Macau, both special administrative regions under the communist regime.Observers believe 67-year-old Xia’s posting reflects the Chinese Communist Party’s determination to have a firmer grip on the administration and policies of Hong Kong. Xia “is Xi’s favorite,” said Prof. Ying Fuk-tsang, director of the divinity school of Chung Chi College at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “This appointment indicates that Xi Jinping will redeploy Hong Kong’s policy.”
Ying said Xia is seen as the man responsible for demolishing more than 2,000 crosses in Christian churches across Zhejiang province, where he has headed the party since 2013.
A Catholic from Wenzhou Diocese in the eastern province told UCA News that Xia gained political mileage by forcibly demolishing churches and pulling down crosses from their roofs.However, Ying believes Xia was only implementing Xi Jinping’s policy, whether he was removing the crosses or building village roads.When Xia was secretary of Zhejiang Provincial Party Committee in 2013, he ordered the implementation of the “three reforms and one demolition” policy. It involved a fourfold action of reviving old residential and factory areas, constructing urban villages and demolishing illegal buildings.Xia’s campaign in Zhejiang “was severe, making even officially recognized church leaders protest in varying degrees,” said Porson Chan Lok-shun, an official of the Justice and Peace Commission of Hong Kong Diocese.During the campaign, the late Bishop Zhu Weifang of Wenzhou and Bishop Gu Joseph of Hangzhou were arrested in retaliation, Porson told UCA News. Xia’s “style is strong and dominant,” he said.
Hong Kong concerns
Christian leaders fear that since Xi Jinping has a policy of “rectifying” religions, Christian life in Hong Kong will also be adversely affected by Xia's appointment.However, the impact on Hong Kong Catholics will depend on the degree of threat the central government perceives from Christians in the island city, Porson said.Paul Wang, a Catholic from Hebei province, said the demotion of Zhang to become Xia’s deputy should be seen as punishment for his failure to deal with Hong Kong’s affairs, particularity since last year.The pro-democracy protests that began in June have lessened since the coronavirus broke out in mainland China in December and spread to Hong Kong, with hundreds of people suspected to be affected. However, protest leaders are determined to continue, according to reports.Wang believes the current concerns for the central government are both the rapid spread of the virus on the mainland and the governance of Hong Kong.“More than the virus issue, China seems to be worrying about not having Hong Kong firmly under them. Xia’s appointment is to deal with the Hong Kong issue mainly,” Wang said.
Xi Jinping’s darlingXia continues to hold other vital offices as well. For example, he is vice-chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, an advisory body to the government with representatives from various parties and organizations.Xia worked under Xi Jinping, who was party secretary of Zhejiang in 2002, and Xia was appointed deputy secretary of Zhejiang Provincial Party Committee in 2003, making him effectively Xi's deputy.In 2007, after Xi was transferred from Zhejiang, Xia served Zhejiang province as its deputy secretary, deputy governor and acting gvernor.In 2012, when Xi assumed the chairmanship of the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, Xia was promoted to secretary of Zhejiang Provincial Party Committee.Xi Jinping himself “is moving towards totalitarianism” and believes that the central government’s “governance of Hong Kong must be stricter,” Prof. Ying said.