BEIJING: China replaced its top official in Hong Kong on Saturday, days after President Xi Jinping expressed concern over the continued pro-democracy protests posing a major challenge to the ruling Communist Party.
Wang Zhimin, the director of its liaison office in Hong Kong who coordinates between the local government of the former British colony and the central government in Beijing, has been replaced, official media here reported.
Wang was replaced by Luo Huining, the former party boss of Shaanxi province, in the first major reshuffle of the office since the city became embroiled in anti-government protests seven months ago.
Though Hong Kong is governed by beleaguered pro-Beijing Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, who so far failed to quell the protests which grew in intensity, much of responsibility over policy and planning has been coordinated by Wang.
China's liaison office in Hong Kong, which is the symbol of Beijing's authority, has also become a centre of pro-democracy protests where the protesters have burnt the Chinese flag.
Luo's appointment came as a surprise as he was named a week ago the deputy director of the financial and economic affairs committee of the National People's Congress, China's legislature, the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported.
The announcement came after Xi in his New Year's address expressed concern over the situation in Hong Kong where the locals carried out pro-democracy protests.
The disquieting situation in Hong Kong, which continues to witness mass protests, especially by youth that often turned violent figured high in Xi's customary New Year's eve address over the national television on December 31.
"The situation in Hong Kong has been everybody's concern over the past few months," said Xi, who is regarded as the most powerful Chinese leader after Mao Zedong.
Besides Presidency, Xi also heads the Communist Party of China (CPC) and the military.
"Without a harmonious and stable environment, how can there be a home where people can live and work happily," Xi said with a tone of exasperation over unending protests, stating that he hoped for the best.
"We sincerely hope for the best for Hong Kong and Hong Kong compatriots," he said.
"A prosperous and stable Hong Kong is the aspiration of Hong Kong compatriots, as well as the expectation of the people of the motherland," he said.
What has started as protests against an extradition bill piloted by Lam, the demonstrations grew in intensity and turned into a full-blown movement against increasing control of China.
Besides calling for Lam's resignation, the protestors are demanding an independent probe into the use of force by police, amnesty for arrested protesters, a halt to categorising the protests as riots and the implementation of universal suffrage to elect their own representatives to govern the province.
The protests continued despite the withdrawal of the bill. The pro-democracy parties also registered a landslide victory in local body elections. Xi's leadership of the crisis especially refusing the withdraw the bill in time has come under criticism.
Xi, who continued to back Lam and her administration, however, has been reiterating Beijing's, unswerving determination, to protect national sovereignty, security and development interests and oppose any external force in interfering in Hong Kong's affairs.