China names new head of national security office in Hong Kong

Supporters of the government in Beijing march in Hong Kong on June 30, 2020.
Supporters of the government in Beijing march in Hong Kong on June 30, 2020.PHOTO: NYTIMES

BEIJING (REUTERS, AFP) - China has appointed an official who became prominent during a 2011 clampdown on protesters in China as director of its new national security office in Hong Kong, the official Xinhua news agency reported on Friday (July 3).

Mr Zheng Yanxiong, 57, most recently served as the secretary-general of the Communist Party committee of the southern province of Guangdong, an economic powerhouse bordering Hong Kong.

The new security agency was established under national security legislation that China imposed this week on Hong Kong that will punish crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison, heralding a more authoritarian era for China’s freest city.

"He (Zheng) is a tough enforcer, a law and order person," Professor Willy Lam, an expert on China’s Communist Party at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, told AFP. 

Prof Lam said Mr Zheng could speak Cantonese, Hong Kong’s lingua franca, unlike other recent appointments of senior party officials who deal with Hong Kong. 

"His experience in cracking down on riots in Guangdong will endear him to the authorities," he added.

Mr Zheng sparked controversy during a prior posting as the party chief of the southern city of Shanwei over his hardline stance towards protesters at the small village of Wukan.

The villagers had sought compensation for land requisitioned by the government and elected a committee to represent their rights. They also aired their grievances to foreign media.

Video clips that were leaked from an internal government meeting at the time showed Mr Zheng harshly criticising the villagers and calling foreign media "rotten".

Mr Zheng, who has never held a post outside Guangdong, was vice-minister in charge of propaganda for the province from 2013 to 2018.

Mr Li Jiangzhou and Mr Sun Qingye were appointed as Mr Zheng’s deputies, Xinhua said

On the same day, the State Council also named Mr Luo Huining – currently director of Beijing’s Liaison Office in the semi-autonomous city – as the national security adviser to the city’s newly-formed national security commission chaired by Chief Executive Carrie Lam.

Mr Luo was appointed to the Liaison Office in January despite reaching retirement age.

A loyalist of president Xi Jinping, he built a reputation for enforcing Communist Party discipline and tackling corruption. 

Another senior party leader involved in crackdowns on underground churches was appointed to lead the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office in Beijing. 

Hong Kong’s mini-constitution forbids mainland officials from interfering in the running of Hong Kong’s day-to-day affairs. But Beijing has argued national security is purely the purview of central authorities. 

While the new security agency in Hong Kong is entirely run by mainland personnel, the national security commission contains a mixture of Hong Kong and mainland officials.

The State Council on Thursday also appointed veteran Hong Kong official Eric Chan Kwok-ki as the commission’s secretary-general. 

The commission – also created by the new law – will oversee policy formulation relating to the national security law in Hong Kong. 

Mr Chan previously served as the director of Hong Kong’s Chief Executive’s Office, before which he was the territory’s head of immigration.