Jan 4, 2020 - World

China signals hardline approach to Hong Kong with new top official

In this image, Wang Zhimin stands behind a podium with Chinese characters behind him

Wang Zhimin addresses a symposium to mark China's sixth Constitution Day, Dec. 4, 2019. Photo: Liu Siuwai/Xinhua via Getty

The Chinese government replaced its top Hong Kong representative on Saturday with a senior Communist Party official known for bringing party discipline to unruly provinces, the New York Times reports, citing the state-run Xinhua news service.

Why it matters: After seven months of often violent pro-democracy protests, Beijing decided to make a change in personnel to a role that operates mainly through behind-the-scenes influence. But the selection of Luo Huining as top representative likely indicates not a softening of Beijing's position toward Hong Kongers' demands, but rather a further entrenchment of its hardline approach.

  • This swap makes former Central Liaison Office head Wang Zhimin the first senior official to lose his title after the protests, per NYT.
  • Luo has served as the Communist Party secretary in two provinces.
  • China said it would introduce steps to "safeguard national security" in Hong Kong in November, but did not provide specifics.

Between the lines: Wang "made no move to stop scheduled elections for neighborhood district councils in November, in the mistaken confidence that pro-Beijing candidates would maintain their longstanding dominance," per the Times.

Our thought bubble: The Chinese Communist Party's mismanagement of Hong Kong has plunged it into a months-long political crisis, as massive protests have torn apart the city's social fabric and crippled its economy.

  • It's clear that Chinese President Xi Jinping has drawn a hard line, refusing to meet protester's demands for police accountability and the resignation of Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam.
  • This swap could be the latest step toward the "mainlandization" of a Chinese city that has traditionally enjoyed far greater political and civil freedoms than its mainland counterparts.

Go deeper: Trump signs bill expressing support for Hong Kong protesters

Go deeper