New head of government in Hong Kong: ‘An emotionless machine – exactly what Beijing wants’

New head of government in Hong Kong
“An emotionless machine – exactly what Beijing wants”

By Marcel Grzanna

Hong Kong police, led by security chief John Lee, have brutally beaten anyone in the wrong place at the wrong time since 2019. Lee is set to be elected as the city’s new prime minister on Sunday.

Ted Hui still remembers John Lee and his status reports to the Hong Kong parliament. The atmosphere was tense, “almost hostile”. At the time, in the second half of 2019, Lee, as the metropolis’ security chief, spoke to deputies, which also included Hui, who now lives in exile in Australia. Millions of people took to the streets to protest a law that would allow Hong Kong citizens to be extradited to Chinese law enforcement.

The proposed law was just the straw that broke the camel’s back. At the base, the people were anxious to defend their civil rights. They protested against the growing influence of the Chinese Communist Party in local politics. “We Democrats loudly called on Lee to take a stand on the protesters’ allegations and demands. But Lee avoided any verbal arguments with us, read his text and walked away,” Hui told ntv.de.

Everything indicates that this John Lee will be elected next Sunday as head of the Hong Kong government. On the one hand, he is the only candidate to have applied to succeed the outgoing Carrie Lam and enjoys the official support of Beijing. On the other hand, more than half of the 1,454 members of the electoral committee have spoken publicly in favor of Lee. He needs an absolute majority of 728 votes to win.

The media and the opposition in Hong Kong have been criminalized

This is the first time that the electoral committee has met in this size. And never before have its members so clearly represented the interests of the central government in Beijing. Mainly because its composition was expanded to include a fifth sector, with representatives from what were previously four social sectors of the city. This sector has 300 seats and is made up of Hong Kong’s representatives to the National People’s Congress of the People’s Republic of China and its Consultative Conference. It is a strictly Beijing-compliant faction. The 300 eligible voters in this new sector have already publicly pledged their support for candidate Lee.

Since the mass protests of 2019, Beijing’s interests have focused more than ever on suppressing any resistance in the city. The introduction of the National Security Law two years ago created the legal framework to criminalize and cripple Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement and critical media.

Reporters Without Borders ranks Hong Kong 148th in its new press freedom index. A few years ago, the city was still in the top 20. For comparison: Germany is currently ranked 18th. There are currently 13 journalists and editors in Detention in Hong Kong. A huge number, notes Reporters Without Borders, which represents a tenth of all media workers detained in China. There are also dozens of opposition activists and politicians behind bars in Hong Kong awaiting trial.

An ex-cop at the head of a police state

The enthronement of John Lee as head of government would finally provide political support for this anti-democratic development. Lee is not seen as an intellectual visionary, but as a loyal technocrat who wants to create effective results. “The Chinese government wants Hong Kong to be ruled by security forces and needs someone who controls the security forces. John Lee has that,” former MK Hui said. “It’s an emotionless machine – exactly what Beijing needs.”

Samuel Chu of the US-based Campaign for Hong Kong also sees Lee as the ideal representative of Beijing’s concerns: “The role of chief executive no longer in any way represents the interests and welfare of the citizens of Hong Kong. Kong. It makes perfect sense to have a former Cops in charge of a police state,” Chu told Voice of America.

“Lee should punish Hong Kong people for their disobedience”

As early as 1977, Lee entered the civil service and climbed the career ladder, especially after Hong Kong returned from Britain to the People’s Republic in 1997. In 2010, he was appointed Deputy Chief of Police and two years later Secretary of State in the Office of Security. In 2017, outgoing Prime Minister Carrie Lam appointed him Secretary of State for Security. Last year, Lam also named him chief secretary of his government, making him number two in Hong Kong’s administrative hierarchy.

Human Rights Watch’s Maya Wang therefore expects freedom restrictions to continue under Lee’s administration. It’s obvious that Beijing expects Lee to “punish the people of Hong Kong for their disobedience,” she wrote in a statement to Voice of America. “Lee’s tenure as Hong Kong’s second-highest political official was marked by police brutality and a lack of accountability for rampant police violence during the 2019 protests.”

Last Friday, under Article 23 of the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the 64-year-old formally pledged to “fulfill the constitutional responsibility of legislation” if he was elected. Article 23 states that “any act of treason, secession, sedition and subversion against the central people’s government is prohibited”.

Carrie Lam reportedly quits for family reasons

In a 44-page manifesto, Lee reveals plans for his term. He advocates for a “results-based approach” to “increase the city’s competitiveness” and “assert its strengths”. Critics have nothing concrete, but credit Lee for having had little time to craft a comprehensive political platform since his candidacy in early April. His plans only matured after incumbent Carrie Lam announced that she would not be available for another term for family reasons. Hong Kong exiles believe Lam’s decision may have been suggested by Beijing to make John Lee the new man.

As head of government, Lee will also have to push forward the city’s development. His predecessor inherited plans to restructure the administration and build the Métropole du Nord with hundreds of thousands of new apartments. It must also accelerate the restructuring of the education sector. The city may have lost much of its appeal to talent from around the world as civil rights have been eroded.

Some well-known entrepreneurs in Hong Kong are also worried that the protests could resume. Victor Li is one of them, the head of the multibillion-dollar company CK Asset Holding and son of the legend of tycoon Li Ka-Shing, for many years the richest person in Asia. Above all, he wants stability and an environment in which the lives of all Hong Kongers continue to improve, said Victor Li. He has already promised the prime minister-designate his vote in Sunday’s election.

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