The unexpected appearance of China’s police chief at a meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Macau’s new leader could signal wariness in Beijing of national security threats from Hong Kong, observers say.
Minister of Public Security Zhao Kezhi, who oversees the country’s police force, appeared alongside other mainland officials with key roles in Hong Kong and Macau affairs when Xi met Ho Iat-seng, the new chief executive of the gambling hub, in Beijing on Wednesday.
It was Zhao’s first known appearance at such a gathering and followed the appointment of Ho, who was the sole candidate in Macau’s chief executive election in late August.
In the official report of the meeting, state news agency Xinhua focused on Xi and Ho’s comments on Macau. But it also named Zhao as one of the officials at the gathering.
Lau Siu-Kai, vice-chairman of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, said Zhao’s presence could signal that he had joined the Central Coordination Group for Hong Kong and Macau Affairs, which determines Beijing’s policy on the two special administrative regions.
“The full list of the [group’s] members is never made public, and most of us can only get a glimpse when senior Chinese officials meet the [Hong Kong and Macau] chief executives,” Lau said.
“It certainly means something if they grab someone else to join the table.
“If Zhao has become a member of the group, it means Beijing is focusing more attention on national security in Hong Kong.”
Two government sources said Zhao had been appointed a deputy director of the group.
“Zhao has joined the group to bolster cooperation between the mainland and Hong Kong police force,” one source said. “And he is one of the key people overseeing the security arrangements of Xi’s visit to Macau this year.”
Xi is expected to visit Macau in December for the 20th anniversary of the handover of the former Portuguese colony to Chinese sovereignty.
A second source said Zhao joined the coordination group in July.
“Hong Kong has grown more restive since July. That should at least be part of the reason he joined,” the second source said.
Beijing has blamed “foreign forces” for the unrest in Hong Kong this summer, a message Zhao underlined when he visited the neighbouring province of Guangdong in August.
As part of preparations for the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic on October 1, he told officers to be on alert for “foreign subversion and infiltration”.
Also at the meeting on Wednesday was Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Politburo member and top diplomat Yang Jiechi, who earlier accused the United States of “interfering in Hong Kong affairs”.
Yang has also urged the country’s foreign-policy makers and diplomats to “resolutely defend China’s sovereignty” over “Hong Kong-related affairs” in the next five years.
Xie Maosong, a professor at the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, said，Hong Kong often came up in China’s relations with the United States and Britain.
“Certainly, it is very important for Wang Yi to be part of the Hong Kong and Macao Coordination Group. Chinese diplomats have been very active in clarifying Hong Kong-related issues in the West,” Xie said.
“Of course, if the situation in Hong Kong really deteriorates to a level where the Hong Kong government needs the central government’s support, then there will certainly be huge repercussions from Western countries. In this regard, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will certainly need to prepare a plan.”
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