China demotes top official in charge of Hong Kong

The reshuffle comes after months of political unrest - the starkest challenge to Beijing since the former British colony was returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

China has replaced the head of its office overseeing matters in Hong Kong, making him the most senior Beijing-appointed official to lose his job in the wake of sometimes-violent anti-government protests in the Chinese-controlled territory.

Senior Beijing official Xia Baolong, now secretary-general at the national committee of China's top political advisory body, was promoted to director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office of the State Council.

Zhang will become a vice director, it said.

Xia was known for his hardline ideology in a 2014 campaign to tear down thousands of crosses and many underground churches in the province while he later took charge of Zhejiang as its party secretary - a post he held until 2017.

"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 airline typically flies about a dozen daily flights between the U.S. and the China or Hong Kong, including to the cities of Beijing, Chengdu, and Shanghai.


"Xi now has his proteges in place over Hong Kong for the first time", said Jean-Pierre Cabestan, a professor of political science at Hong Kong Baptist University.

Zhang's removal follows Beijing's move in January to replace the head of its Hong Kong liaison office.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam and Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office Director Zhang Xiaoming.

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 centred on the mainland that's led to runs on surgical masks and toilet paper and shuttered local schools through March. His appointment came amid a purge of officials in Hubei, the province wracked by the coronavirus outbreak.

Hong Kong's global 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.

"If the specific needs of global schools can not be rapidly addressed, this will very likely trigger decisions of families (not just expatriates) to leave Hong Kong in the coming weeks", wrote Ms Rebecca Silli and Mr Peter Burnett, chairs of the French and British chambers.

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