Hong Kong, April 22 (IANS) Hong Kong’s chief executive replaced five of her ministers on Wednesday and denied that the cabinet reshuffle had anything to do with the recent controversies over Beijing’s growing influence in the special administrative region.

Civil Service head Joshua Law, Home Affairs Secretary Lau Kong-wah, Innovation and Technology secretary Nicholas Yang and Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury James Lau had all “served with dedication,” Carrie Lam said, according to state broadcaster RTHK.

Lau Kong-wah will be replaced by Labour and Welfare Undersecretary Caspar Tsui, Yang by Electrical and Mechanical Services Director Alfred Sit, and James Lau by Christopher Hui, Financial Services Development Council executive director, Efe news reported.

Also replaced is Patrick Nip, who until Tuesday was secretary for constitutional and mainland affairs, and will now occupy Law’s position of civil service head, while Immigration director Erick Tsang will replace him in his original role.

The news of Nip’s dismissal broke out on Tuesday and came after he contradicted the official position on the status of the Chinese government’s liaison office in Hong Kong, although Lam ruled out that his replacement was linked to that controversy.

Ahead of the media briefing, the mainland’s state news agency Xinhua said the State Council had approved appointments following nominations by Lam.

Lam said that the new appointees will help Hong Kong emerge faster from the crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

In recent days, there have been a growing number of voices critical of the Hong Kong and Chinese governments amid what is being seen as Beijing’s rising influence in the affairs of the semi-autonomous city.

Last week, China’s liaison office in Hong Kong criticized several lawmakers for allegedly violating their oaths by opposing some of Beijing’s directives, among other things.

There were also reports last week of alleged interference by Beijing in Hong Kong’s judicial system and new heavy-handed requests in the face of what China has interpreted as “foreign interference” in Hong Kong.

While Lam’s government failed to provide a firm response to this, the Hong Kong Bar Association did so in a statement.

On Monday, the organization issued a statement stating that both China’s liaison office in Hong Kong (LOCPG) and the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office (HKMAO) – which is also under the Chinese government – were subject to the local laws and thereby prohibited from interfering in the internal affairs of the special administrative region.

“In any event, there is no provision in the Basic Law (Hong Kong’s constitution) which confers on the HKMAO and LOCPG the power of ‘supervision’ over affairs which the HKSAR administers on its own,” the statement added.

Recent days have also seen fresh arrests of protesters in the city: on Saturday alone, 15 prominent activists and supporters of the demonstrations were arrested for allegedly organizing and taking part in unauthorized march protests while at least five other arrests were made on Tuesday night.

The protests in Hong Kong began in June last year over a now-withdrawn extradition bill that would have seen Hong Kongers eligible to be extradited to the mainland for prosecution.

But they subsequently morphed into a wider movement calling for increased freedoms and more autonomy from Beijing.

During the months that followed, some protesters opted for more radical tactics than peaceful protests and violent clashes with the police were common, which also had an impact on the local economy that fell into a recession for the first time in a decade.

–IANS

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