The shock demotion of Zhang Xiaoming as head of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office heralds 'more direct control' over local affairs by President Xi Jinping himself, an academic said on Thursday, adding that the reshuffle marks a wholesale restructuring of Beijing's controls over the territory.
A terse statement from the central government on Thursday said Zhang would be demoted to deputy director, to take control of day-to-day affairs, without specifying any reason.
Political scientist Ma Ngok of Chinese University noted that the man who replaces Zhang – Xia Baolong, vice chairman of China’s top advisory body – has strong links to President Xi, having served as deputy party secretary under Xi in Zhejiang province in the early 2000s.
The heads of the central government’s liaison offices in Hong Kong and Macau will double as deputy directors to the revamped Hong Kong and Macau Offices Office under Xia.
Hong Kong's liaison office chief, Luo Huining, was only appointed last month to replace Wang Zhimin.
Ma said the appointments of Xia and Luo within such a short span is no coincidence.
“[They] have relatively little experience in Hong Kong, but they have strong links with Xi Jinping himself, and they are relatively senior officials in the past”, Ma noted.
“So actually I can see that this as a sign of Xi Jinping himself taking more direct control over the affairs of Hong Kong.”
Ma also considers Zhang’s demotion to be punishment for the months of unrest in Hong Kong.
“He is held responsible for the mess in Hong Kong since last June…. He is held accountable for the major problems of governance in Hong Kong since last June”, Ma concluded.