China is tightening the screws: the new head of Hong Kong will be a “silovik”
A US-sanctioned former security chief will lead the special region
Former security secretary John Lee has been elected as Hong Kong's new chief of staff in an unopposed election. Lee won with 1,416 support votes from members of the Electoral College. In the West, this event is considered as evidence of the tightening of Beijing's policy regarding Hong Kong liberties, preserved after the transfer of the former British colony to China.
Photo: Global Look Press
Former security chief John Lee, who led the crackdown on the “pro-democracy movement” in Hong Kong, has become the region's new leader, writes The Guardian. Beijing welcomes the result: the only candidate to succeed Carrie Lam as head of the region won 99% of the vote in a secret ballot.
Like his predecessor Carrie Lam, 64-year-old John Lee was one of Hong Kong's first officials (Hong Kong) and mainland China, which are on the US sanctions list for allegedly undermining Hong Kong's once-guaranteed rights and freedoms.
Analysts say John Lee's rise through the ranks indicates that Beijing's tough policy on Hong Kong will continue. It is also the first time that a former security officer has been appointed to a top position in one of Asia's most significant business centers.
Hong Kong attracted global media attention in 2019 with its months-long street protests, the largest since its handover to China from the UK in 1997. The following year, Beijing enacted a controversial national security law in the city that prohibits the region's secession from the PRC and subversion, as well as collusion with foreign forces.
In recent months, the Hong Kong administration's grueling response to the coronavirus pandemic has sparked complaints from residents and foreign companies alike. Several foreign chambers of commerce have warned the Hong Kong authorities of the damage from the “zero spread of COVID” policy.
Lee's new position was approved after he was chosen by an “electoral committee” of 1,461 people, roughly 0.02% of the city's population. Critics say the committee does not represent a wide range of views in Hong Kong and that its members are mostly pro-Beijing.
After a brief secret ballot on Sunday, 99% or 1,416 members voted for Lee, according to officials. and only eight voted against.
Beijing welcomed this near-unanimous result, saying it showed that John Lee “enjoys a high level of recognition and approval in Hong Kong society.” “This is a true demonstration of democratic spirit,” the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office said in a statement.
The election was the first for a chief executive since the introduction of the Hong Kong national security law, and electoral reforms have led to the fact that Hong Kong is ruled only by patriots, the Beijing-based Global Times notes.
“Such broad and sincere support for Lee has laid a good foundation for the new government, which will help him form a new leadership team and roll out measures to address issues such as epidemic control, economic recovery and social livelihoods,” said Lau Siu Kai, Vice President of the China Hong Kong and Macau Research Association.
The Western press claims that under Xi Jinping's rule, Beijing is “recasting Hong Kong in its own authoritarian image” after massive and sometimes violent democratic protests three years ago. Dissenting voices have all but disappeared after last year's electoral changes allowed only “patriots” to run in legislative elections. Street protests in Hong Kong have been largely banned by law, and the authorities have used the anti-COVID ban on public gatherings of more than four people, as well as the security law, to do so.
Despite the risks, the League of Social Democrats – one of the few remaining pro-democracy groups – held a three-person protest before the polls opened on Sunday, chanting “Power to the people, universal suffrage now.”
Lee's Challenge in the management of a difficult region is not only political in nature. Hong Kong is also facing economic hardship due to two years of severe pandemic restrictions that have damaged its reputation as a business hub.
Under the slogan “Opening a new chapter for Hong Kong together,” Lee promised to introduce “results-oriented” management, strengthen unity, and reboot the city's economy. According to The Guardian, the 44-page manifesto that John Lee released last week contained general goals and proposed several specific political goals.
According to a poll conducted in March by the Public Opinion Research Institute, about 24% of the population Hong Kong trusts John Lee, compared to the 12% trust level enjoyed by the outgoing head of the region, Carrie Lam. John Lee is expected to usher in a new chapter of development for Hong Kong after the region has been hit hard by social upheaval and the COVID-19 epidemic, according to China's Global Times.
John Lee will take office on July 1, 25- anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong to China from British colonial rule.
At that time, China agreed that Hong Kong could retain certain freedoms and autonomy for 50 years after regaining control of the UK under the formula “one country, two systems. Beijing and John Lee insist that this formula remains unchanged. Critics, including many Western powers, say it has been destroyed.