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China's democracy killer to enforce Hong Kong security law

Strongman Zheng Yanxiong put down a rebellion in in Guangdong province in 2016

UCA News reporter, Hong Kong

UCA News reporter, Hong Kong

Published: July 07, 2020 08:34 AM GMT

Updated: July 07, 2020 10:33 AM GMT

China's democracy killer to enforce Hong Kong security law

Riot police hold up a warning flag during a demonstration in a mall in Hong Kong on July 6 in response to a new national security law which makes political views, slogans and signs advocating independence or liberation illegal. (Photo: Isaac Lawrence/ AFP)

A senior Chinese politician who crushed a mainland democracy movement has been appointed to oversee the implementation of the controversial national security law in Hong Kong.

Zheng Yanxiong, a former mayor and Communist Party secretary of Guangdong province bordering Hong Kong, on July 3 took charge of the office to implement the law that bans subversive and secessionist actions in the former British colony.

Church activist Chan Lok-shun told UCA News on July 7 that the latest appointment is a sequel to the selections of two other politicians who proved to be "tough" in handling situations.

"It shows China's determination to handle Hong Kong with an iron fist," said Chan, an officer of the Justice and Peace Commission of Hong Kong Diocese.

Bypassing laws in Hong Kong, Zheng will directly report to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). His office can directly handle cases as it sees fit. Suspects could also be sent to face trial in mainland Chinese courts.

Zheng, 56, was made deputy director of the provincial policy research office in 2002 and became deputy mayor of Shanwei in Guangdong province in 2005. He was named mayor and became party secretary of Shanwei in September 2011.

In that same month, residents of Wukan fishing village accused officials of taking away their land in a series of underhand deals with property developers.

As part of a negotiated deal, villagers were given the right to elect their own council — hailed as a grassroots democratic exemption in communist China.

Five years later, in 2016, people took to the streets following their elected village chief's arrest. When the rebellion peaked, it was over to senior cadre Zheng to quell it. The police were ordered to seize control and mass arrests followed, putting an end to the "Wukan experiment" once and for all.

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Zheng's new role follows a pattern of appointments by Chinese President Xi Jinping in dealing with Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement, observers say.

In January, senior CCP member Luo Huining was appointed to head the Liaison Office of the Central People's Government in Hong Kong. His job, media reports say, involves enforcing the CCP's wishes in the territory.

In February, the party appointed Xia Baolong, known for leading cross removals in Zhejiang province, as the director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office that coordinates cooperation between the mainland and special administrative regions.

"The three of them are not only tough but they also were not involved with the affairs of Hong Kong in the past. This is an advantage" to Xi Jinping as these officials may "be able to implement the party's command accurately and firmly without any baggage of history," Chan said.

When Britain handed back Hong Kong to China in 1997, certain democratic rights were guaranteed for at least 50 years under the "one country, two systems" agreement.

The imposition of the security law practically brings Hong Kong under full Chinese administration and indirectly ends the agreement allowing its semi-autonomous status.

Zealot Zheng

Since the Wukan episode, Cantonese-speaking hardliner Zheng has moved up through the ranks and gained a reputation for being a strongman.

He worked for Guangzhou University of Chinese Medicine and the People's Daily during his early career.

Zheng, who has never held any official post outside Guangdong province, was vice-minister in charge of propaganda for the province from 2013 to 2018.

His new powers include the authority to give advice, which under the CCP set-up must be heeded without any exception.

Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam has also been given more teeth under the new security law. She has already handpicked six judges to hear cases under the new legislation.

On July 3, the day Zheng took charge, a man carrying a "Liberate Hong Kong" sign became the first person to be charged with inciting secession and terrorism under the new law.

Beijing implemented the law on July 30 despite protests from Hong Kong residents and Western nations.

The Hong Kong government has confirmed that speech will also come under the purview of the security law, including slogans from the pro-democracy movement that has rocked the Asian financial hub for the past year.

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