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China upgrades Hong Kong affairs with new chief

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China upgrades Hong Kong affairs with new chief

Beijing has for the first time put a state leader, Xia Baolong, in charge of the cabinet-level office that oversees Hong Kong affairs, while reducing incumbent chief Zhang Xiaoming’s authority to that of executive deputy director.

The stunning reshuffle at the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office (HKMAO) – coming after months of social turmoil and anti-government protest violence in Hong Kong, and as the city reels from the ongoing coronavirus crisis – is seen as a demotion but still leaves Zhang running daily operations with his ministerial rank intact.

Xia, a vice-chairman of the country’s top political advisory body, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, will be the HKMAO’s director. He is widely regarded as a trusted ally of President Xi Jinping, as they worked together for more than four years in Zhejiang province in the mid-2000s – Xi as Communist Party chief and Xia his deputy.

A source familiar with the matter said the appointment of the 66-year-old Tianjin native would fix reporting-line issues because the HKMAO had effectively been “promoted” to a level above Beijing’s liaison offices in Hong Kong and Macau.

“Although Zhang has become the deputy executive director in charge of daily operations now, his role has remained largely unchanged,” the source said, adding that the new structure also further improved communications between the HKMAO, which is in Beijing, and the liaison office based in Hong Kong.

In addition to Xia’s appointment, Beijing’s top envoys to Hong Kong and Macau will take up new roles in the HKMAO, too […]

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