John Lee, Hong Kong Protest Leader, Can Lead the City

HONG KONG – John Lee rose through the ranks of Hong Kong’s security services, earning a reputation as a hardliner by quelling the city’s 2019 protest movement and curbing dissent as a digital official. 2 of the city.

Now, he is widely expected to be Beijing’s choice to take the helm of Hong Kong, an appointment that will reflect the central government’s focus on strengthening its grip. for this once resilient city, even at the expense of being a global financial hub. .

Mr. Lee on Wednesday said he had submitted his resignation as secretary-general of Hong Kong and planned to run for chief executive if Beijing accepted his announcement.

“It shows he’s confident he can get Beijing’s support, otherwise you wouldn’t risk it,” said Lau Siu-kai, a Beijing adviser on Hong Kong affairs. office”.

Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive since 2017, opened the door for Mr. Lee to run for office when she said on Monday that she walked down after a single term was thwarted by Massive anti-government protests and outbreak of Covid this year with one of the highest mortality rates in the world.

If Mr. Lee moves into the top job, he will bring to it a different set of skills and experience than his predecessor, reflecting China’s shifting preference for Hong Kong. how.

Before becoming chief secretary last year, Mr. Lee, 64, spent his entire career in Hong Kong’s security services, first as a police officer, eventually becoming a deputy commissioner, before becoming chief secretary. when transferred to the city’s security office, which oversees police, prisons, immigration. and fire departments.

There, he became security secretary and then led the government’s campaign to crack down on widespread protests in 2019 against a proposal to allow extraditions to mainland China, which soon expanded. into a broader anti-government movement.

Last year, when police arrest dozens of democracy activists and politicians Because of their efforts in selecting candidates to run in the city’s legislative elections, Mr. Lee defended the move, saying the plan to cripple the Hong Kong government after taking office would leading the city into a “bottomless abyss”. Many of those arrested are still in custody awaiting trial on charges of subversion a tough national security law Beijing imposed in 2020.

Political analysts say Mr. Lee’s appointment as chief executive will show Beijing remains deeply concerned about Hong Kong’s political stability, even after a sweeping crackdown prompted most of the pro-democracy faction that once had a say in Hong Kong was in the prison or exile.

“Beijing’s priority is to put political regime security above financial security in Hong Kong,” said Sonny Lo, a Hong Kong-based political analyst.

“It is not surprising that a security official is very likely to take on the position of chief executive officer in Hong Kong,” he added. “It is in line with the trend of securitization in mainland China over the past 10 years, especially after Xi Jinping came to power.”

Hong Kong’s leader is voted on by a committee of 1,500 loyalists to the central government. The system always picks Beijing’s preferred candidate, but it was tightened further last year to eliminate the remote possibility that a candidate in favor of the city’s opposition could be nominated. nominate.

One of the limitations is a system that widely tests candidates for the office of chief executive and the city’s legislative council. As chief secretary, Mr. Lee led that inspection committee, a sign of Beijing’s trust in him.

The lead for the selection of a new chief executive has been muted this year, with serious candidates appearing only a month before the May 8 poll. The decision was scheduled for March, but was postponed as a coronavirus outbreak increases in February.

The relative calm of the process, Mr. Lau said, reflects Beijing’s goal of avoiding political divisions within the establishment camp. “Hong Kong cannot have this kind of division, especially from the point of view of Covid-19,” he said.

Since Hong Kong back to Chinese control in 1997, its top four leaders are all from the city’s business or civil service circles. No company serves as full two terms as the law allows, and their tenure is often marred by unpopularity and inefficiency.

“We have a businessman, an expert and two civil servants as chief executives,” said Ronny Tong, a former lawmaker who now serves in the Hong Kong chief executive’s cabinet. “Looks like none of them actually completed the quest. So for Beijing, maybe let’s try a different angle, I think that’s understandable.”

Hong Kong’s system is frequently criticized for its selection of loyalists with limited political skills, who often show more respect for the central government than for the general population. While Mr. Lee came to the job with a different résumé, critics say he will have similar shortcomings.

John P. Burns, professor emeritus at the University of Hong Kong, said: “The Communist Party does not choose leaders with political skills for Hong Kong. “John Lee fits this.”

Because Mr. Lee does not have the same network of connections through the business world and the bureaucracy in Hong Kong as his predecessors, he will probably be more dependent on Beijing’s office in Hong Kong. , Central Liaison Office, for guidance, Mr. Burns said.

Other potential candidates discussed to succeed Ms Lam include Paul Chan, Hong Kong’s finance secretary.

“Paul stands for putting the economy first,” Mr. Tong said. “John is actually more of a security officer, and so he feels more comfortable trying to keep Hong Kong stable and a safe political environment. The choice of both will hint at the list of priorities that Beijing is thinking about.”

But Mr. Chan appeared to downplay that possibility on Wednesday when he wished Mr. Lee luck in the selection contest, which was taken as a sign he would not take part.

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