John Lee, who served in the police for decades before joining the political administration and played a key role in Hong Kong’s democratic repression, is set to be appointed the city’s top leader following next month’s rubber-stamped election.
Lee formally submitted his bid on Wednesday. After receiving enough nominations, he is the only candidate running in the election for the post of Chief Executive, the highest local leadership position in China.
Until April 6, Lee served as the city’s chief executive, but he resigned so he could qualify as a candidate to replace current chief executive Gary Lam, who said last week that he would not run for a second. Term.
Lam, who oversees issues such as housing, health and business, unlike Lee’s background law and order.
After announcing his run, he told reporters that his tenure would provide “a new symphony” with himself as a “conductor”.
According to his government biography, Lee joined the Hong Kong Police in 1977 and was promoted to Assistant Commissioner of Police in 2003. Between 2012 and 2021, he served as Undersecretary of Defense before being appointed and later Secretary of Defense. For his latest post in 2021.
As a former police officer, he stands outside Hong Kong’s political establishment, a significant selling point in Beijing, said a former lawmaker who spoke anonymously.
Past CEOs such as Tung Chee-hwa and CY Leung have deep ties to the business community, while both Donald Tsang and Lam rose through colonial civil service to take on more senior roles after returning to the United Kingdom territory in 1997.
In contrast, the former legislator said the league does not have a “local authority” but at the same time has enough intelligence to gain Beijing’s support. Under the terms of Hong Kong’s new election laws, introduced last year, only politically verified “patriots” can run for office.
According to experts, Lee’s professional experience and ability to withstand criticism make him the best candidate for Beijing. He came to international attention during the mass protests in 2019 as the face of the local government during regular press conferences.
The 2019 protests were triggered by a deeply unpopular plan to change Hong Kong’s extradition laws and allow suspects to be sent to the mainland for trial, but they quickly sank into protests across the city for greater democratic rights.
Throughout the 2019 turmoil, Lee’s press conferences revealed “firm non-disclosure protection of the proposed law” despite increasing domestic and international pressure, said Susan Pepper, a longtime resident and political scientist in Hong Kong.
Lee’s leadership style should be the same, “regardless of the questions and uncertainties created for the general public,” which should lead to differing opinions, without regard to nonsense, legal letter, or over-respect. ”
Slow change in Hong Kong police
Lee, Hong Kong’s top police officer and later head of the Defense Bureau, introduced a new era for the police force beginning in 2014, said Anna Quak, a strategic and operational ally of the Hong Kong Democratic Council in the United States.
That year saw two major events in how police cracked down on protesters during protests against development in the New Territories district, and later during the Umbrella Movement’s democratic struggles.
In both cases, the police began blaming the protesters – rather than arresting and releasing them – and using significantly more force than before, Quak said.
As defense secretary, Lee traveled to Xinjiang province in late 2018, where China has been accused of waging a brutal campaign to suppress the Muslim-majority Uyghur minority, and said it needed to stop more than 1 million people in detention camps and ‘extremism’. .
“When he came back, he really said he had learned a lot from Xinjiang in terms of counter-terrorism mechanisms and experience,” Kwok said. “He also openly stated that Hong Kong has something to learn.”
Still, before 2019, Hong Kong’s police were the most respected weapon of the local government, said Steve Chang, director of SOAS China in London.
However, under Lee, thanks to its aggressive tactics against the opposition, it has been transformed into “the most hated and hated company in a few weeks in 2019”, he said.
These tactics include overcoming opponents and using rubber bullets and tear gas canisters to control the crowd.
Lee’s guard record is more worrying than his experience as an administrator, says Chang.
“For Beijing, choosing someone with such a record shows that Beijing’s priority is to ensure that there are no differences of opinion. [Hong Kong]Above all else, ”he told Al Jazeera via email.
A security administration
After the end of the 2019 protests, Lee took on a new role in mid-2020, overseeing Hong Kong’s National Security Act as a member of the Committee to Protect National Security.
Since the enactment of the National Security Act in June 2020, Hong Kong police have made 183 arrests, according to the China File Database. Of these, 113 have been charged with “treasonous speech” or “treasonous speech.”
Much of Hong Kong’s small but vibrant political opposition has been imprisoned or forced to emigrate for their part in the 2019 protests. In all, Hong Kong police arrested 47 city top activists and leaders on charges of sabotage, most of whom spent a year in pre-trial detention.
Many commentators believe that this law has brought a preconceived notion of “one country, two organizations” under which Beijing promised to manage Hong Kong after the handover and ensure that it enjoys unknown rights and freedoms on the land until at least 2047.
Hong Kong’s national security regime, along with its brutal response to COVID – 19, has forced thousands to flee, and special status has been granted to Hong Kong residents born before the 1997 handover, including the UK.
Many are also concerned about what awaits the next generation, as strict restrictions on daily life result from the spread of the Omigran variant, with Hong Kong schools pursuing plans to teach “patriotism” and national security even to elementary school children. .
The city’s population will drop to 23,600 by 2021, while air data show that more Hong Kong people will continue to leave in 2022, including foreign experts.
The future of Hong Kong
Security repression has caused a slump in Hong Kong’s economic future, and the United States is no longer an autonomous region from China, so it is considered ineligible for special trade concessions.
The United States has also imposed sanctions on Hong Kong officials, including Lam and Lee, for undermining that autonomy.
The incoming CEO will also have to fight the fall of Govt-19, the deeply unequal community and the most expensive housing in the world.
But Lee has indicated that his tenure will prioritize security issues above all else.
He had previously said that Hong Kong should adopt the local version of the National Security Act imposed in Beijing, which is called ‘Section 23’ of the city’s basic law, its mini-constitution.
Article 23 states that Beijing must enact legislation in its own right to “prohibit treason, secession, treason, and any acts against the Central Government.”
Hong Kong’s leadership made an abandoned attempt to introduce legislation in 2003, but according to local media, the plan was abandoned after 500,000 people took to the streets.
Lee said last year that he wanted to fight “fake news” in the local media, suggesting that Hong Kong could see legislation similar to the Fake News Act passed in Singapore in 2019. Singapore law has been criticized as a tool by rights groups. Restrict freedom of speech.
Before 2020, Hong Kong was widely regarded as Asia’s free speech capital with vibrant civil society and turbulent media. Under the new National Security Act, many local media outlets were shut down by the police or closed their doors for fear of prosecution.
Independent publications of the pro-democracy local newspaper Apple Daily have come under attack from top executives and editors, accusing the parent company NextDigital of collaborating with foreign forces or endangering national security. The newspaper closed last year, but people did not line up around the block for its final edition.
Prior to Lee’s announcement, several potential candidates from the business community and the government’s executive branch were discussed in the Hong Kong media, but Lee will now run unopposed.
According to the Hong Kong Free Press, the city will vote on the post by a special panel of 1,462 voters on May 8, after completing an exercise that will cost the city $ 278 million ($ 35.4 million).
Speaking to Al Jazeera, the former legislator said that security-related laws could come as Lee is in charge – this time targeting the so-called ‘foreign influence’ in Hong Kong.
At one time its British-style legal system and substantial foreign community will become the “global city of Asia” and the proud city of a major international financial center, they said.
“They will focus on foreign intelligence, they will focus on foreign organizations in Hong Kong, and they will focus on fake news and all sorts of national security laws, such as a supercharged treason crime,” the legislator added. Sends a strong signal not to go, which is a clear message to the international community.