If all had long gone in accordance to approach, John Lee would now be nearing retirement soon after a extended occupation in engineering. As an alternative, the previous Hong Kong policeman and stability tsar stands on the cusp of becoming the territory’s upcoming chief government.
The expected appointment of Lee, 64, as Hong Kong’s fifth main govt due to the fact the former British colony reverted to Chinese sovereignty in 1997 was all but certain this 7 days soon after the incumbent, Carrie Lam, declared that she would not look for a next 5-calendar year term. Even before Lee verified his need to replace her, the Chinese Communist party’s reps in the territory instructed a 1,500-seat, “patriots only” election committee to back him in the Might 8 vote.
Assuming everything goes as scripted, Lee, who is at the moment Hong Kong’s second optimum position formal, will be sworn in on July 1. This falls exactly midway by way of the 50 a long time of “one country, two systems” autonomy that Beijing certain to Hong Kong. He will inherit a city that has adjusted drastically over recent a long time, its formerly robust freedoms and boisterous civil modern society decimated by the national safety legislation imposed two decades ago by Chinese president Xi Jinping.
Hong Kong’s status as one of the world’s good worldwide financial centres also hangs in the equilibrium, as Xi’s strict “zero-Covid” pandemic controls minimize it off from equally the outside globe and its Chinese hinterland.
“John signifies the value of stability and a stable environment for Hong Kong,” claims Ronny Tong, a member of the cupboard that advises Lam. He adds that experienced Beijing opted instead to back again Lam’s money secretary, Paul Chan, it would have indicated Xi’s administration was “putting economic restoration at the forefront” of Hong Kong’s policy agenda. In accordance to Tong, “John and Paul depict two fully unique methods.”
From a modest qualifications, Lee excelled academically and gained a put with the engineering school at the College of Hong Kong. But he by no means took it up, in its place signing up for the law enforcement drive straight out of substantial school in 1977. Following that, Lee all but disappeared into the pressure for the far better portion of 40 many years before a late entry into politics in which he rose to prominence as Lam’s security secretary in 2017.
“He has been relatively lower profile till just lately people really don’t know a great deal about him,” suggests Lau Chi-pang, a professor at Lingnan College who sits on the election committee that will rubber-stamp Lee’s appointment.
In a city the place formal asset declarations often reveal large house portfolios and exceptional club memberships among the public servants, Lee has one particular apartment in a rather tranquil neighbourhood and belongs to a handful of police officer associations.
If it were being not for two historic blunders by Lam that finished her hope of serving a second term, Lee may well have faded absent into a silent retirement. Ironically, in light-weight of his imminent promotion, he was carefully associated in both. In 2019 Lam proposed legislation that would have permitted Hong Kong citizens to be extradited to mainland China if desired by the authorities there. As safety secretary, Lee lobbied prominently for the controversial monthly bill.
It proved to be a disastrous misreading of the public mood, sparking the greatest pro-democracy movement on Chinese soil since the 1989 Tiananmen Sq. protests. Mass protests ensued — which include 1 attended by an believed 2mn of Hong Kong’s 7.5mn inhabitants. The invoice was reluctantly withdrawn by the governing administration.
Then, after Covid-19 erupted out of central China in January 2020, Lam’s administration failed to vaccinate sufficient of Hong Kong’s vulnerable elderly. When the territory’s formerly effective defences had been overwhelmed by the Omicron variant previously this 12 months, extra than 8,000 men and women died in only 3 months. By this time Lee experienced been promoted to main secretary and played a essential function in the bungled response.
Finally Lee has been rewarded for serving to to crush the professional-democracy movement, correcting, in Beijing’s eyes, Lam’s very first slip-up. This was produced simpler by the countrywide safety regulation bludgeon Xi handed him in June 2020. Lee has unapologetically deployed it versus pro-democracy legislators and activists, dozens of whom are now in jail or exile. His marketing is a sign that Beijing views this approach as far from above.
After the Trump administration sanctioned him, Lam and other senior officials for aiding and abetting Xi’s “degradation of Hong Kong’s autonomy”, Lee responded: “I do not care . . . I scoff at [the sanctions]. I despise them.”
“In the eyes of the central govt John Lee can be relied on to retain Hong Kong stable and secure from the difficulties posed by international powers,” states Lau, the election committee member.
When just one pro-Beijing business determine says that “knowing the ins and outs of the economic system is not what [Lee] is recognised for”, he and other supporters argue that the main government-in-ready can delegate economic and financial selection-producing to persons who do. That way, Lee can continue on to emphasis on the safety and steadiness — Beijing fashion — that they consider is a prerequisite if Hong Kong is to arise from its zero-Covid coma.
“It is plain that economics is not John Lee’s strength,” agrees Ip Kwok-him, a cupboard member, who thinks “he will lead the metropolis well” regardless. Knowledge in economics and finance, soon after all, is not what China is looking for in Hong Kong’s upcoming chief government.
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