Hong Kong’s faith community is reeling the Chinese government announced the appointment of a notoriously anti-Christian official to oversee the cabinet-level office of Hong Kong and Macau affairs.
Xia Baolong, the vice-chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, is well-known known for enacting policies that are specifically aimed at oppressing followers of Jesus.
The 67-year-old — who spearheaded a drive to remove thousands of crosses from churches in Zhejiang province — is a close aide of Chinese President, Xi Jinping.
Many believe that the new appointment is a show of power from the Chinese government and an attempt to control Hong Kong’s increasingly vocal Christian community.
“It’s clear that Xi Jinping wants to have a clear grasp of the situation in Hong Kong — that’s the major point,” Sonny Lo, a Hong Kong-based academic, told TIME. “We’ll probably see some adjustment in Chinese policy toward Hong Kong.”
“The reshuffling at this interesting moment may point to a deep distrust from Xi Jinping toward the former faction dealing with Hong Kong affairs.”
A pastor from the eastern province of Zhejiang told International Christian Concern that the new appointment may result in a ramping up of persecution at the hands of Hong Kong’s governing authorities.
“This shift [from Zhang to Xia] is not a good situation,” he said. “It is possible that Xia will oppress the churches in Hong Kong.”
The Chinese government has been attempting to suppress an increasingly discontent Hong Kong population in recent months, following an audacious attempt to introduce an extradition bill which would have given them the power to extradite criminals from Hong Kong into the Chinese justice system.
Though the extradition bill is dead, the unrest has continued, with many Christians taking to the streets to worship and pray.