China appoints hardliner Zheng Yanxiong as its top representative in Hong Kong | Hong Kong

China has appointed the head of the national security office in Hong Kong as its top representative officer in Hong Kong – a sign that Beijing will tighten its control over the city.

Zheng Yanxiong, 59, replaces another hardliner, Luo Huining, 68, as head of Beijing’s top representative office in Hong Kong, the State Council said in a notice.

As the inaugural director of the Office for Safeguarding National Security in Hong Kong, Zheng was among the Chinese and Hong Kong officials sanctioned by the United States for undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedoms. The office, which has broad powers to investigate major cases and supervise the Hong Kong government’s implementation on national security law, was established under the national security law.

China imposed a national security law on the city in June 2020 to stamp out the months-long, often violent mass pro-democracy protests that started in 2019. The law punishes acts of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces.

Hong Kong’s top leader, John Lee, praised Zheng for “coordinating, supervising and guiding” the city government in national security work and said it would work with him in advancing “Hong Kong’s integration into national development”, China Daily reported.

Zheng is notorious for cracking down on the 2011 mass protests in Wukan, a village in the southern province of Guangdong which borders Hong Kong. As the top party official of the Guangdong city of Shanwei which oversaw Wukan, Zheng criticised villagers for “colluding with foreign media to create trouble” by talking about their grievances.

Zheng was best known for his hostility towards the international press, which descended on the village to report the protests. “If the foreign media could be trusted, then pigs could climb trees,” he said at the time.

China’s officials insist that Hong Kong must “transition from chaos to order and prosperity”. In his new year speech on Sunday, Zheng said President Xi Jinping was “glad to see that Hong Kong has restored order” and China was eager to see Hong Kong “shift from order to prosperity”. He said that as long as Hong Kong “unswervingly safeguard national sovereignty and security” and patriotism, “there are no difficulties on the road ahead that cannot be conquered”.

Zheng said in 2021 that there was still “plenty of work to do to perfect the national security law” and vowed to press on with a long-shelved proposal to enact an anti-subversion law under article 23 of the city’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law. The current national security law does not cover the seven offences spelled out in article 23, which include treason, theft of state secrets, foreign political groups conducting political activities in the city, and local bodies establishing ties with foreign counterparts.

Chen Daoyin, a former associate professor at Shanghai University of Political Science and Law now moved overseas, said the elevation of Zheng demonstrated that the Communist party placed its “comprehensive governance” over the city’s autonomy – guaranteed under the One Country Two Systems policy as part of the conditions of the handover of its sovereignty from Britain to China in 1997.

“If Hong Kong’s development would pose a threat to mainland China, it would rather have national security than development,” he said.

A Hong Kong-based veteran China watcher, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, said Zheng’s appointment “means an exacerbation of Beijing’s tough policy against dissent and against ‘agitation’ in Hong Kong”.

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