China names head of new national security office in Hong Kong

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Beijing has appointed an official who became prominent during a clampdown on protests in a Chinese village as director of its new national security office in Hong Kong, the official Xinhua news agency reported on Friday.

Zheng Yanxiong, 56, most recently served as the secretary general of the Communist Party committee of Guangdong province, an economic powerhouse bordering Hong Kong. He is among a host of officials appointed by Beijing in recent months as it tightens control over the former British colony.

The new security agency was established under national security legislation imposed by China 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.

Under the legislation, the new agency in Hong Kong can take enforcement action beyond pre-existing local laws in the most serious cases.

The legislation allows agents to take suspects across the border for trials in Communist Party-controlled courts and specifies special privileges for the agents, including that local authorities cannot inspect their vehicles.

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During Zheng’s tenure as party chief of the Guangdong city of Shanwei, authorities clamped down on protesters in 2011 in a village under its jurisdiction, named Wukan.

Thousands of residents 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 Zheng harshly criticising the villagers and calling foreign media “rotten”.

Zheng has never held a post outside Guangdong and has extensive experience in propaganda, having worked at the Communist Party’s official People’s Daily in its southern regional bureau for four years. He was vice minister in charge of propaganda for Guangdong province from 2013 to 2018.

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

Hong Kong was rocked by months of sometimes-violent anti-government protests last year, prompting Beijing to impose the security legislation that Hong Kong democracy activists and some foreign governments say further erodes the autonomy promised under the “one country, two systems” formula.

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Early this year, China replaced two top Hong Kong-focused officials, appointing Luo Huining as head of the Liaison Office and Xia Baolong as director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office (HKMAO) in Beijing.

On Friday, Luo was named as an adviser to Hong Kong’s national security committee, Xinhua said.

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