Beijing loyalist John Lee elected chief executive of Hong Kong

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HONG KONG — Hong Kong’s top security official won the election on Sunday to become the city’s new chief executive, after running unopposed, in the latest sign of Beijing’s tightened control over Hong Kong then even that its future as an international commercial center remains uncertain.

Beijing’s selection of John Lee and his subsequent election underscores mainland China’s desire for loyalty and obedience in a territory once known for its freewheeling press and open business environment.

On Sunday, Lee received 1,416 votes of support and eight votes of no support from a 1,460-member election committee made up largely of politicians and business leaders, now even more in thrall to Beijing after the last year’s electoral revisions that limited candidates to “patriots” deemed loyal. in China.

“With loyalty and perseverance, I will undertake this historic mission and unite and lead the 7.4 million people of Hong Kong to start a new chapter together,” Lee said.

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Lee will face a number of thorny issues when his term begins on July 1, including the issue of removing travel restrictions and reopening borders to ensure the city remains a major international business destination. He is also expected to oversee new restrictions with the implementation of Article 23 of the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, which requires the city to enact its own security law. The scarcity of housing also remains an ongoing challenge in this densely populated city of over 7 million people.

Lee represents a break from the past as the first chief executive to have a career in policing instead of a career in public service or business. He joined the force at 20, rose through the ranks and became assistant commissioner in 2010. In 2017, chief executive Carrie Lam promoted Lee to security secretary – a move that set him on the path to apply and help Beijing’s goals to curb. Hong Kong when the protests broke out.

In 2019, Lee oversaw a crackdown on pro-democracy protesters and helped roll out the new national security law, which led to the arrest of more than 180 people and forced the closure of three news outlets.

Despite numerous accusations of police brutality in the crushing of protests, no government officer or official has been held responsible for wrongdoing or investigated. Last June, Beijing appointed Lee as chief secretary, Hong Kong’s second-highest political post.

During the crackdown in Hong Kong, police repeatedly broke their own rules – and faced no consequences

With national security taking precedence over Hong Kong’s governance, remaining opportunities for civic participation will continue to shrink, said Eric Yan-ho Lai, a Hong Kong law researcher at Georgetown University’s Center for Asian Law. Beijing will take a hardline approach, allowing “no negotiations” with the West on Hong Kong issues, Lai said.

Hong Kong closed its borders in 2021 to block incoming coronavirus cases and contain the outbreak within the community, alarming business groups who have warned that ongoing restrictions are driving out Hong Kong talent and threatening status of the city as a financial center.

In April, Hong Kong reopened its borders to international travelers, who must go through a mandatory seven-day hotel quarantine, and flights are still banned from some cities. Experts have urged the government to reverse flight suspensions as the city hit its official vaccination target after a devastating outbreak of the omicron variant of the virus earlier this year. Crossing points to mainland China also remain closed given the growing number of cases there.

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Bankers and diplomats who met with Lee said he appeared to be more receptive to business concerns than Lam, the incumbent executive, according to Bloomberg News. Lee told reporters that connecting Hong Kong to the mainland is a “priority concern”, but the government will have to “overcome barriers” as the city continues to see several hundred cases a day.

“It is important for all of us to note that Hong Kong’s competitiveness hinges on remaining an international and direct gateway to the mainland. … I will work towards that goal,” Lee said, noting the “inconvenience” the border closures have caused to business development.

As befits the man who broke the back of Hong Kong’s democracy movement, Lee is expected to take an uncompromising approach when it comes to maintaining stability. In 2003, the government halted implementation of Article 23, a controversial bill that called for Hong Kong to adopt its own security laws, after thousands of people in the streets opposed it. fearing that it would stifle freedom of expression. Lee pledged to revive it.

While the Beijing-drafted national security law has already effectively muzzled dissent in Hong Kong under the vaguely worded crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with a foreign power, Article 23 will focus on “the ‘state-level espionage’ and treason.

In an interview with local media, Lee said local legislation should “be done as quickly as possible.” Tang Ping-keung, Lee’s successor as security secretary, said authorities would work to consult and introduce the bill to the legislature within a year.

All eyes will also be on Lee over legislation that would allow authorities to require news organizations to retract or correct stories, a move seen as a further eradication of press freedom. When Lee was chief secretary, he said the government was conducting a legal study into legislation to target disinformation, but he later told the press that ‘fake news’ would only be criminalized ‘as a last resort’ and that the government would prioritize a self-regulatory approach.

During his campaign for chief executive, Lee said there was no need to “defend” press freedom “because it still exists.” A day later, the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Hong Kong suspended its Human Rights Press Awards, fearing it was unwittingly violating security law.

Lee’s style of ideological governance follows that of Chinese President Xi Jinping, said Kenneth Chan Ka-lok, a former pro-democracy lawmaker and associate professor at Hong Kong Baptist University.

“There will be spaces for discussion, but they will eventually meet Beijing’s standards for policy-making,” Chan said.

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