China's new Hong Kong boss used to rip crosses from churches

Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo Puyat

Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo Puyat

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.

Beijing has replaced the head of its office overseeing Hong Kong with a political hardliner and ally of President Xi Jinping, signalling a more hands-on approach in its management of the Chinese-ruled city after often violent anti-government protests.

Zhang's demotion, together with the appointment of 67-year-old Xia, underscores a potentially more assertive approach by Xi in how he manages Hong Kong's affairs, analysts said.

"As we continue to evaluate our operation between our USA hubs and Beijing, Chengdu, Shanghai and Hong Kong, we have chose to extend the suspension of those flights until April 24".

Xia also served as Xi's deputy between 2003 and 2007 while the now-president was Zhejiang party secretary.

During this period, the airline said it will continue to fly its daily Vancouver-Hong Kong route. Although demands to Hong Kong have decreased as well, the region is exempt from U.S. emergency regulations quarantining citizens and permanent residents, and barring entry by foreign citizens, who have been to China within the previous 14 days.

Xia's push in 2014 and 2015 to tear down crosses on the roofs of churches in the eastern province of Zhejiang was widely criticised by the worldwide community.

Zhang, 56, is the most senior Chinese official to lose their job after protests escalated in Hong Kong last June over a bill that would have allowed people to be extradited to the mainland for trial in courts controlled by the Communist Party.

Xia's installation follows last month's appointment of Luo Huining (駱惠寧) as head of China's Liaison Office of the Central People's Government in Hong Kong.

He was subsequently appointed to a leadership role on the CPPCC, the nation's political advisory body and a post usually seen as a transition toward retirement for senior leaders.

In recent days, Hong Kong's leaders have faced criticism as well over shortages of masks and resources that emerged in their handling of a virus epidemic starting from the mainland. Chief Executive Carrie Lam has been under pressure from some groups, including health care workers, to fully seal off the border with mainland China. The gaming hub, meanwhile, has been forced to temporarily close its casinos.

On Thursday, China also announced the replacement of Jiang Chaoliang, the party's Hubei secretary, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.

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