Amid protests and virus, China shuffles Hong Kong officials

Nellie Chapman
February 15, 2020

China on Thursday replaced the head of its Cabinet office responsible for Hong Kong following months of anti-government protests in the territory and rising tensions over the outbreak of the viral COVID-19 respiratory illness.

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.

United said it was extending cancellations of flights to Hong Kong, which had been set to resume on February 21, and for flights to mainland China, that had been set to resume on March 28.

Speculation has also swirled that Beijing may be preparing to replace Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam when matters settle down.

Luo Huining, director of the Liaison Office of the Central People's Government in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, and Fu Ziying, director of the Liaison Office of the Central People's Government in the Macao Special Administrative Region, were also appointed as the deputy directors of the HK and Macao affairs office as their concurrent posts, according to the notice.

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.

Coronavirus information airport
Lufthansa has updated its schedule in line with coronavirus developments

Xia is a former Communist Party secretary - the top local official - of the prosperous eastern province of Zhejiang, where president and Communist Party leader Xi Jinping spent many years as a top official. The city has been roiled by more than seven months of protests over an extradition bill that would have allowed suspects to be sent to mainland China for trial.

"Xi now has his proteges in place over Hong Kong for the first time", said Jean-Pierre Cabestan, a professor of political science at the Hong Kong Baptist University.

Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific Airways said last week that it would cut 90% of its flights to mainland China, and 30% of its capacity globally, due to the sharp fall in demand.

Though she stopped short of doing so, key checkpoints are largely closed, including the ferry terminal that links Hong Kong and Macau.

"Xia is not a moderate and he has shown himself to be a zealous servant of Xi Jinping".

During this period, the airline said it will continue to fly its daily Vancouver-Hong Kong route.

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