HONG KONG — The architect of the three-year cross removal and church destruction campaign in the Chinese province of Zhejiang has been appointed to head the Office of Hong Kong and Macau Affairs, in what many see as a signal that Beijing intends to take a hardline approach in the financial hub that has been roiled by more than six months of street protests.
Xia Baolong, 67, a close ally of Chinese leader Xi Jinping, was his deputy in Zhejiang when Xi ran the province. Later, in 2013, Xia became the Communist Party secretary of the province, one of China’s more heavily Christian regions.
Xia began the campaign to tear down crosses and some churches, using China’s dense property codes as a shield, from 2013 until he stepped down in 2017. More than 1,200 crosses were removed and an unknown number of churches torn down, a tactic that later spread to other provinces.
He was further promoted for his efforts and has been serving since 2017 as a vice chairman of the Chinese People’s Consultative Committee, which has traditionally included religion — as well as ethnic minorities — as part of the sections of society it oversees.
The Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office reports directly to China’s State Council, the peak government organization headed by China’s No. 2 leader, Premier Li Keqiang. It also reports to the Communist Party division Central Coordination Group for Hong Kong and Macau Affairs, headed by Han Zeng. Li and Han are two of the seven members of the Chinese Communist Party’s Politburo Standing Committee.
The move to install Xia follows another recent high-profile appointment, former Shaanxi party chief Luo Huining as head of China’s liaison office in Hong Kong.
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