BEIJING: China has demoted the director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, the State Council said Thursday, following months of pro-democracy protests in the semi-autonomous city.
Zhang Xiaoming was re-appointed as a deputy director in charge of daily operations at the office instead and will be replaced by senior Beijing official Xia Baolong as director.
The shuffling of officials comes after months of political unrest in Hong Kong, representing the starkest challenge to Beijing since the former British colony was returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
The cabinet-level Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office is China’s top policy body on Hong Kong affairs.
The new director, Xia, is a senior official, holding the role of secretary-general at the national committee of China’s top political advisory body.
The State Council said two other officials will take on deputy director roles in the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office.
Luo Huining, head of Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong, and Fu Ziying, who heads the Macau liaison office, will also be given the role of deputy director while still keeping their existing roles.
In Hong Kong, millions have taken to the streets since June last year, originally in opposition to a now-abandoned proposal to allow extraditions to mainland China.
The movement then morphed into demands for greater democratic freedoms and police accountability.
In recent days, Hong Kong’s leaders have faced criticism as well over shortages of masks and resources that emerged in their handling of a virus epidemic starting from the mainland.