Just days after a draconian national security law went into effect in Hong Kong this week, Beijing has appointed a hardline, controversial Communist Party figure as chief of the new office set up to ensure the sweeping new changes are implemented.
The appointment of Zheng Yanxiong has many critics fearing it is yet another step in an authoritarian direction, given he is most known for his violent crackdown of demonstrations on the mainland village of Wukan several years ago.
The Wukan unrest was first sparked in 2011 amid a land dispute in the southern Chinese village, in which locals were seeking compensation for land requisitioned and grabbed by the government. Discontented villagers effectively forced out a number of officials they accused of inking corrupt deals with developers, resulting in the loss of their personal property.
But when Beijing had enough of the growing turmoil, Yanxiong was sent to handle the matter.
The top party official was accused of agitating and attempting to silence demonstrators – dispatching hundreds of riot police and rounding up scores of villages. At the same time, he gained notoriety for his provocative remarks during the protests, in which he stated, "pigs will fly before the foreign press can be trusted" and blaming villagers for "colluding" with international media outlets to "create trouble."
A protracted blockade and an eventual settlement between the Communist leadership and locals led to a simmering of tensions, but subsequent riots broke out when payments had still not been made, and their elected leader was banished, according to reports at the time. By then, Yanxiong was no longer in that role and had instead gone on to become Secretary-General of the Communist Party's Guangdong branch.
Nonetheless, his latest high-powered appointment comes on the heels of the Hong Kong government confirming the establishment of its own national security committee, chaired by Chief Executive Carrie Lam. Additional selections made by Beijing include that of Luo Huining – who runs Beijing's liaison office in Hong Kong – to now serve as an adviser to Hong Kong's chief executive on the new security law, while a longtime official in the territory, Eric Chan, will helm the national security commission.
The security law, which has earned condemnation from much of the international community over concerns it will destroy Hong Kong's freedom – endeavors to denounce "acts of secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign and external forces" with potential life imprisonment sentences.
The sovereignty of Hong Kong was given back to China by Britain in 1997, under the "one country, two systems" agreement that at least 50 years of individual rights would be upheld.
The law targets secession, subversion, and terrorism with punishments of up to life in prison. Almost 400 protesters have already been arrested since the implementation since July 1, with several being probed for "secession offenses" under the new law. Moreover, numerous pro-democracy activists have resigned from their positions, and several have fled.
Beijing has responded to the mounting pushback, according to the BBC, by stating that the matters of Hong Kong is "none of your business."