Carrie Lam | Photographer: SeongJoon Cho | Bloomberg
File photo of Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam | Photographer: SeongJoon Cho | Bloomberg
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Hong Kong: China’s establishment of national security office in Hong Kong last week — staffed by officials accountable to Beijing — represents the culmination of a unprecedented push to take more hands-on control over the former British colony.

Hong Kong’s chief executive, while still nominally the top decision-maker on most local issues, will from now on be more closely supervised by several officials who have come up through the Communist Party ranks on the mainland. The new appointees have hardline credentials, including a former aide to President Xi Jinping known for removing crosses from churches and a former party official who once joked that if the foreign media could be trusted, pigs could climb trees.

“Beijing requires tough enforcers and hardliners to be stationed in Hong Kong because the propagation of the national security law is to promote Beijing’s control and to defeat efforts at separatism,” said Willy Lam, an adjunct professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s Centre for China Studies.

Here’s a look China’s new national security team in Hong Kong:

Xia Baolong, 67, Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office chief

Xia served as a close aide to Xi almost two decades ago, when the future president was party chief in the eastern province of Zhejiang. After ascending to the same provincial post years later, Xia oversaw a religious crackdown including efforts to remove crosses from Christian churches.

Xia was installed as head of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office in Beijing as part of a shake-up in February that clarified the agency’s superiority to the Liaison Office in Hong Kong. Shortly after Xia’s appointment, the HKMAO broke with precedent to openly attack Hong Kong opposition lawmakers by name, signaling the body would take a more assertive role in the city’s affairs.

Luo was credited with enforcing Xi’s broader campaign to fight corruption and weed out disloyal officials in his previous role as party secretary of the northern province of Shanxi. After being installed as Liaison Office chief in January, Luo gave a hint of what was to come, writing that “external forces will infiltrate China without inhibition,” if the city failed to pass long-delayed national security legislation.

Early under Luo’s leadership, the Liaison Office shocked opposition leaders by asserting that provisions barring central government agencies from interfering in Hong Kong affairs didn’t apply to either it or HKMAO. Under the national security legislation handed down by Beijing, he’ll exert even more direct influence as “security adviser” to the Hong Kong chief executive. Luo reports directly to Xia, under the hierarchy established in February.

Also read: Under Hong Kong’s new security law, police swab protesters for DNA & search their homes

Zhang Xiaoming, 56, HKMAO deputy director

For years, Zhang has been at the forefront of China’s oversight of Hong Kong, rising through the ranks of the Liaison Office to become the agency’s chief and later the director of the HKMAO in Beijing. He took an assertive role in those jobs, claiming the Hong Kong chief executive was legally above the three branches of local government and branding so-called localists behind one violent demonstration in 2016 as “radical separatists” with “leanings toward terrorism activities.”

After a series of high-profile setbacks, including the rise of an independence movement, last year’s protests and a landslide election defeat for pro-establishment candidates, Zhang was demoted to serve as Xia’s deputy. Still, he maintains his rank and holds responsibility for the agency’s day-to-day operations. He has fanned fears about the the national security law’s chilling effect on Hong Kong by describing it as a “sword of Damocles” hanging over Beijing’s critics.

Carrie Lam, 63, Hong Kong chief executive

Lam has held on to her Beijing-appointed post despite taking the blame for the “entire unrest” that broke out after her failed effort last year to pass legislation that would’ve allowed extraditions to the mainland. She told a gathering of business people in September that the proposal had caused “huge havoc” and that she would quit if she had a choice, according to audio of a speech published by Reuters.

The chief executive holds an impossible job, wedged between Beijing’s demands and the expectations of the Hong Kong people. A career civil servant, Lam became the city’s first female leader when her five-year term began on July 2017. While the new law reaffirms Lam’s authority over Hong Kong’s justice system, she will have to walk a fine line, with Beijing’s officials operating more openly than ever in the Asian financial center.

Zheng Yanxiong, 56, national security office chief

Before his appointment last week to lead the new national security agency in Hong Kong, Zheng was best known as one of the officials responsible for the nearby fishing enclave of Wukan when it erupted in protests over land grabs in 2011. The unrest drew international attention as protesters secured a landmark local election, but the village’s new leaders struggled to convince more senior officials to return the land and were eventually detained.

Zheng, who led the county that oversaw Wukan, blamed foreign forces for “adding fuel to the fire,” saying in a video clip circulated widely online that “if the foreign media could be trusted, then sows could climb trees.” He’ll likely wield immense influence under the law, which gives his office the power to oversee and provide guidance to a new national security committee led by Lam. The office staff will enjoy immunity from interference while on official duties in Hong Kong.-Bloomberg

Also read: Google, Facebook, Twitter stop sharing user data with Hong Kong govt


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