The hardline head of Hong Kong’s national security agency has been appointed China’s top representative in the city, state media said on Saturday, as Beijing tightens its grip since 2019 democracy protests.

The State Council has appointed Zheng Yanxiong, 59, to lead the central government’s Liaison Office in Hong Kong with immediate effect, replacing Luo Huining.

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John Lee (left), then-chief executive-elect, meets the Head of the Office for Safeguarding National Security of the Central People’s Government in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Zheng Yanxiong on May 9, 2022. Photo: GovHK.

Zheng led Hong Kong’s national security agency since its inception in 2020, when Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law on the finance hub after the huge and often violent protests.

The agency under Zheng oversaw the implementation of the security law, which has since been used to prosecute dozens of activists.

City leader John Lee welcomed the appointment, saying on Saturday Zheng “coordinated, oversaw and guided” Hong Kong’s work in safeguarding national security.

The mini-constitution drawn up for the city’s handover from Britain to China in 1997 forbids mainland officials from interfering in the running of Hong Kong’s day-to-day affairs.

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File Photo: May James/HKFP.

However, the Liaison Office has become more outspoken and influential as Beijing remoulds Hong Kong in its own authoritarian image.

Zheng rose through the local government ranks in southern Guangdong province before his Hong Kong posting and served as secretary general of the provincial Communist Party committee.

He is best known for stamping out anti-corruption protests that erupted in Wukan, a Guangdong village, in 2011 after an activist died in police custody.

Hong Kong media outlets quoted Zheng during the Wukan riots as saying villagers were “colluding with foreign media to create trouble”.

Luo, the outgoing Liaison Office chief, is expected to retire, Hong Kong media reported. 

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