John Lee is the new CEO of Hong Kong. The 64-year-old ran the only approved campaign to succeed Carrie Lam, the embattled head of Chinese territory who oversaw a dramatic relegation to democratic institutions during the pro-democracy protests of 2019. Lee’s tenure is likely to see more of the same: as a former deputy chief of police in Hong Kong, he played a key role in the brutal crackdown on pro-democracy activists.
As the only Beijing-approved candidate to replace Lam, Lee’s victory was virtually assured as soon as he announced his candidacy. While Hong Kong lacks what Americans would recognize as a democratic electoral system, multiple candidates have competed for Hong Kong’s top job in previous elections. But this year, Lee was the only person Beijing apparently deemed sufficiently loyal to the Chinese Communist Party under its new Hong Kong electoral policy. unveiled last March† He won handily with 99 percent of the voices of the 1,500-member Election Commission†
Since 2019, the Chinese government has introduced laws and policies that have eroded the relative autonomy Hong Kong enjoyed after the territory was returned from the UK to China in 1997. changes in extradition laws, which could allow Hong Kong residents accused of crimes to be extradited to mainland China for trial, erupted across the region amid calls for strengthened democratic institutions. Those protests, while effective in indefinitely delaying extradition laws, ultimately resulted in a… national security law is issued. Under that law, many prominent activists love: Agnes Chow, a pro-democracy activist and member of the pro-democracy civic group Demosisto, as well as opposition politicians and business leaders, were arrested. Since then, a “climate of fear” has permeated the city and has virtually wiped out the democratic resistance movement, according to a reporter Analysis February 2021 by Thomas E. Kellogg and Lydia Wong of the Georgetown Center for Asian Law. (Lydia Wong is a pseudonym for a scholar who operates in the People’s Republic of China.)
The government in mainland China also implemented several reforms in Hong Kong’s governance structure that helped cement China’s control of the city, as Michael Martin of the Center for Strategic and International Studies outlined in a February report. Twelve pro-democracy candidates were barred from running in the 2020 Legislative Council (Hong Kong legislature, often abbreviated to LegCo) elections, which were subsequently postponed to December 2021. In the meantime, China’s Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC), with Lam’s help, made changes to Hong Kong’s Basic Law – the city’s governing charter – that would allow a larger proportion of seats in the LegCo to be China friendly.
The NPC Standing Committee has also established an institution to examine potential political candidates, the Candidate Suitability Assessment Committee, or CERC. As of April 14, the CERC had only four members — all unelected government officials — and three unofficial members, according to a government press release† Lee, now poised to take over as CEO of Hong Kong, was the CERC chairman until April 7.
John Lee, police officer
Before joining the Hong Kong government as Chief Secretary for Administration – the second most powerful position in the government – Lee was deputy chief of police and a professional agent. joined the force in 1977† He will become the first police chief in 25 years since the handover to China, and will take office on July 1, the anniversary of that day.
Over the past four decades, Lee rose through the ranks of the city’s police force to become Secretary of Security, overseeing the city’s police force during the 2019 protests against the extradition bill (for which, according to the BBC, Lee was a strong supporter). During his tenure, the Hong Kong police force was harshly criticized for using excessive force, such as the use of rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons, and the occasional use of live ammunition against protesters. Lee defended the use of force and the response to the protest, including the National Security Act, saying it had helped.”restore stability from chaos.†
Lee also said he plans to enact legislation prohibiting “any act of treason, secession, sedition, subversion,” which is legal under the law. Article 23 of the Basic Law of Hong Kongin an effort to rid the city of “Hong Kong’s ideology of independence, violence and extremism”.
While his policies and response to the pro-democracy protests of 2019 and 2020 clearly pleased Beijing, US Treasury Department sanctioned Lee, Lam and other government officials for “undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy and restricting the freedom of expression or assembly of the citizens of Hong Kong” in August 2020. Lee was specifically identified for his role in “forcing arresting, detaining or detaining individuals under the authority of the National Security Act, as well as being involved in its development, approval or implementation,” said a press release from the Office of Foreign Assets Control† However, since the warrant only applies to assets located in the US or under the control of US persons, it is unlikely to affect its economic status. It could potentially cause complications as Lee tries to save Hong Kong’s economy after the Covid-19 pandemic and the National Security Act pushed foreigners and international companies out of the city.
Lee’s selection is also not entirely without precedent. Beijing has often had a preferred candidate in the chief executive competition. But the undisputed leadership of the former security chief is almost too astute after pro-democracy activism and calls for Hong Kong’s independence threatened China’s hold on the city. It also points to the erosion of the civil service in Hong Kong. Lee is not part of the civil service and political class, or a business leader, as former chief executives were. Rather, the valuable expertise he brings to his job is his loyalty to Beijing, Kenneth Chan Ka-lok, formerly a pro-democracy legislator and associate professor at Hong Kong Baptist University, told the Washington Post in April, after Lee announced his candidacy. “Most importantly, Lee is an executive appointed by Beijing. As long as he can serve his master well, [Hong Kong’s] pro-establishment side will not have a voice far different from his,” he said.
The fact that loyalty, rather than competence, is the most important quality of leadership in Hong Kong does not bode well for the future, Ho-fung Hung, a professor of political economy at Johns Hopkins University and an expert on the Hong Kong politics told the Post† Hung predicted that Lee’s leadership points to the “gradual erosion of the professionalism spirit in Hong Kong in all parts of society will continue or even accelerate.”
Business Ties with Hong Kong
Lee’s lack of experience – both in government and business – puts him in a difficult position when it comes to one of his leadership’s most important mandates: rebuilding Hong Kong’s economy after the one-two punch of the national security law and the Covid-19 pandemic.
Hong Kong has occupied a middle position for the past 25 years, with a degree of social and political autonomy far greater than that of mainland China – encapsulated in the “one party, two systems” philosophy that has governed Hong Kong since 1997. Western-style openness and freedom, coupled with tax breaks, attracted international companies and thousands of expats. However, as the Associated Press reported last yearA survey by the US Chamber of Commerce last year showed that 40 percent of expatriates surveyed are considering leaving Hong Kong in May due to national security law, and many international companies relocated their operations.
In addition, the Covid-19 pandemic has shut down the city and pimples have paralyzed the health system. The Chinese government’s dynamic zero-covid policy has exacerbated the exodus, with more than 150,000 people having left since early 2022, according to Al Jazeera† “It is an indisputable fact that we have a brain drain and some of the senior management of some companies have left Hong Kong,” Lam said of the city’s Covid-19 policy.
Lee is tasked with supporting Hong Kong’s business sector again, but rather than luring international companies back, perhaps with a less restrictive political atmosphere and Covid-19 policies, he suggests a totally different approach: Opening the border with mainland China and developing the northern part of the island, the so-called Northern Metropolis, as an option to alleviate the city’s housing crisis — and strengthen connections to the mainland.
“He can be a decisive leader. He can make the city function better. That’s true. But he’s not a businessman. He has no ties to business,” Tara Joseph, the former president of the US Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong , told Al Jazeera† “He has ties to the security apparatus.”