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China Appoints Hardliner Known for Crackdown Against Churches to Oversight Role in Hong Kong

Hong Kong/China
Hong Kong/China

Xia Baolong, a former deputy and ally of President Xi Jinping, has been appointed by the Chinese government as the new director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office. It's a move seen by some political analysts that Beijing intends to tighten its control over the city.

The Guardian reports Xia's reputation comes from his 2014 campaign to tear down thousands of Christian crosses and many underground churches in the Zhejiang province. Xia, 67, later took command of the province, serving as party secretary until 2017. 

Hong Kong saw months of anti-government protests drawing thousands of people over an extradition bill that would have required suspects to be sent to the mainland for trial. The city later withdrew the bill that sparked the protests – the most flagrant challenge to Beijing's authority since the United Kingdom turned over its former colony to mainland rule in 1997. 

Willy Lam, an adjunct professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, told The Guardian Xia's appointment is "bad news for Hong Kong". 

"It signals that China will bring Hong Kong under closer scrutiny and tighten control over all aspects of the city," he said.

Professor Ying Fuk Tsang, the director of the divinity school at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said the appointment of a close ally of Xi might also attempt to intensify ideological control in Hong Kong.

"He has a track record as a hardliner. If the central authorities want a crackdown, he would not spare any efforts," he said. "This would definitely have an impact on Hong Kong's civil society."

After a key Chinese Communist Party meeting known as the Fourth Plenum last November, the party released a statement saying "National interest should take priority over the "two systems" policy that has allowed Hong Kong extensive autonomy since the handover from British colonial rule, and warned that it would not tolerate "any actions that split the country."

As CBN News reported in November, Hong Kong's pro-democracy opposition won a landslide victory in the district council elections, winning the majority of the vote for 452 district council seats. It was seen as a clear rebuke to city leader Carrie Lam over her handling of recent violent protests in the city.

Speculation has also swirled that Beijing may be preparing to replace Lam when matters settle down.

Meanwhile, oppression in the communist country continues on many levels. On Wednesday, China said it had revoked the press credentials of three The Wall Street Journal reporters over a headline for an opinion column deemed racist by the government.

The expulsions come after the Trump administration on Tuesday designated five state-run Chinese news outlets that operate in the United States as "foreign missions," requiring them to register their properties and employees in the US. China said it reserves the right to respond to what it called a mistaken policy.

The headline on the Journal's opinion column referred to the current virus outbreak in China and called the country the "Real Sick Man of Asia."

Like most foreign media companies, The Journal is unavailable within China and its website and stories are blocked by online censors.

China has in recent years refused to issue or renew credentials for foreign journalists, but this is the first time in decades that it has actually revoked their documents, effectively expelling them from the country.

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