Hong Kong Government Headquarters in Admiralty. Photo: HK Government

The Hong Kong government’s announcement Wednesday that it would replace officials could have implications for the Legislative Council election in September, said commentators.

On the recommendation of Chief Executive Carrie Lam, the State Council approved the appointment of Immigration Director Erick Tsang Kwok-wai, 56, as the secretary for constitutional and mainland affairs, replacing 55-year-old Patrick Nip Tak-kuen, who replaces Joshua Law Chi-kong as secretary for the civil service.

Undersecretary for Labour and Welfare Caspar Tsui Ying-wai, 43, is replacing Lau Kong-wah, 62, as the secretary for home affairs. Both Tsui and Lau are members of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB), a pro-Beijing political party in Hong Kong.

Christopher Hui Ching-yu, an executive director of the Hong Kong Financial Services Development Council, 43, has been appointed as the secretary for financial services, replacing 70-year-old James Henry Lau.

Alfred Sit Wing-hang, director of Electrical and Mechanical Services, 58, will take over from Nicholas Yang Wei-hsiung as the secretary for innovation and technology. 

The latest shuffle of Hong Kong’s principal officials indicates that the central government will continue to tighten its political control over Hong Kong, according to two political commentators.

Positions in the government’s financial departments are generally politically neutral but the appointment of Hui, a core DAB member, as the secretary for financial services has changed this, said Ken Yau Tze-ken, assistant director (experiential learning), faculty of social sciences, University of Hong Kong.

Nip’s reappointment without a promotion could be a signal from Beijing that Hong Kong officials must toe the central government’s line in all their press releases, Yau said. 

Last Saturday, the Hong Kong and Macau Office (HKMAO) and the central government’s Liaison Office said they had the power to supervise Hong Kong’s affairs as they were not bound by the restrictions of the Basic Law’s Article 22, which says the central government’s offices cannot interfere in the Hong Kong government’s affairs.

The Hong Kong government initially issued a press release saying that HKMAO and the Liaison Office were set up under the Article 22 but later amended the text. Nip apologized for the confusion.

Carrie Lam said Wednesday that the “press release” saga was not related to Nip’s latest position change, which had been proposed internally some time ago.

Prior to this, some pro-Beijing members had expressed dissatisfaction over the fact that only one pro-democracy candidate – Joshua Wong – was barred from running in the District Council election on November 24, 2019. Nip was the secretary for constitutional and mainland affairs at that time. 

Erick Tsang, Nip’s successor, would strictly implement Beijing’s policies as he came from disciplined services, said Lau Siu-kai, the vice-president of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies.

Nip’s new mission is to keep civil servants from opposing the government as some did during the 2019 social unrest, he added. 

A total of 41 civil servants were arrested during last year’s ant-extradition protests, according to the government. 

Lau Kong-wah was removed from his position, probably due to the pro-establishment camp’s worse-than-expected performance in the District Council election last November, some political observers said. From Beijing’s perspective, the secretary for home affairs is responsible for supporting pro-establishment candidates in elections. 

On Wednesday, Lau said in a statement that it’s a suitable time for him to step down as his successor Caspar Tsui is younger and has leadership skills.

Nicholas Yang, who was appointed by former Chief Executive Leung Chun-yin, also has to step down. He said he respects Carrie Lam’s decision and did not have any regrets about joining the government. 

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