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HONG KONG

China appoints hardliner to Hong Kong office

Hong Kong: Asian financial and shipping centre.
Hong Kong: Asian financial and shipping centre. RFI/Jan van der Made

China has appointed a senior official known for a hardline crackdown against Christians in the mainland province of Zhejiang to head its main policy-making body for Hong Kong, following months of pro-democracy protests in the semi-autonomous city.

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The reshuffle comes after months of political unrest -- the starkest challenge to Beijing since the former British colony was returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

Senior Beijing official Xia Baolong, currently 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.

His predecessor Zhang Xiaoming was demoted to deputy in charge of daily operations.

Xia, 67, was Communist Party secretary of eastern Zhejiang province for five years from 2012.

Campaign against hundreds of Christian parishes

During his stint there, local officials were accused of demolishing churches and removing crosses from their exteriors, in a campaign that rights groups said impacted hundreds of parishes.

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

"I think Xi Jinping wanted to find someone he could trust," said Jean-Pierre Cabestan, a political science professor at Hong Kong Baptist University.

The personnel changes are aimed at boosting coordination between Beijing and Hong Kong, Cabestan said, as well as giving more support to the pro-establishment camp in Hong Kong's Legislative Council.

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