THE CORONAVIRUS OUTBREAK has stopped the Hong Kong mass protests in their tracks, but Beijing is not letting the opportunity pass to tighten its control over the troublesome city.
Xia Baolong, a consigliere for President Xi Jinping from their Zhejiang days when Xi was Party boss there and Xia his deputy, has been appointed to run the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office, the cabinet-level agency that oversees the two former colonies.
Xia’s seniority, his status as a Xi loyalist and the fact that the heads of the local liaison offices in both places will now report directly to him, as in a surprise demotion will the previous director, Zhang Xiaoming, signals Xi’s intent to exert more direct control over Hong Kong in particular.
That had been flagged to some extent in January by the replacement as head of the Hong Kong liaison office of the hapless Wang Zhimin by Luo Huining
As party chief in Shanxi, Luo oversaw an anti-corruption purge. His new boss, Xia, also has a hard-line reputation, derived in part from a crackdown on underground Christian churches during his time in Zhejiang.
That will not be an encouraging precedent for Hong Kong’s civil society. Nor will the fact that Beijing’s two top officials concerned with Hong Kong’s affairs have no roots in the city, making it more likely that their first thought will be to put China’s interests ahead of those of Hong Kong.