Security chief who led the pro-democracy crackdown becomes Hong Kong’s new leader | Hong-Kong

At the height of protests in Hong Kong in the summer of 2019, angry pro-democracy lawmakers shouted in the Chinese territory’s legislative council: “Down with John Lee!” defended troops.

“I hope that people will understand the chaotic situation and the pressure that everyone on the ground is facing on that day,” Lee said unabashedly. “I hope that citizens will not express their displeasure with the government on police officers, who are only performing their duties.”

On Sunday, Lee, 64, who has built a long career in police and security and oversaw the 2019 crackdown on anti-Beijing protesters, will become Hong Kong’s new chief executive in a selection process for one candidate to fill Carrie. follow. Lamb. Like Lam, he was one of the first Hong Kong and mainland Chinese officials to be placed on the US sanctions list for their role in eroding the city’s once-guaranteed rights and freedoms.

But despite the controversy, by the time the leadership poll takes place, more than half of the nearly 1,500 people selected to vote would have already shown their support for Lee — guaranteeing him victory.

“By choosing John Lee as the no-competition candidate, Beijing is sending a message to the outside world,” said Ho-fung Hung, a Hong Kong-born professor of political economy at Johns Hopkins and the book’s author. City on the outskirts: Hong Kong under Chinese rule† “The message is that Beijing has cemented control and will continue its harsh policies in Hong Kong,” he said.

Lee joined the Hong Kong Police Force in 1977 as an inspector. He rose through the ranks and became the head of the government’s security bureau in 2017. Like many of his colleagues, he is fluent in English and trained abroad, with a master’s degree in public policy and administration from Charles Sturt University in Australia.

In recent years, Lee has shown his staunch support for Section 23 – the controversial National Security Act passed in 2020. The law prohibits secession, subversion and collusion with foreign troops. Since its enactment, dozens of pro-democracy lawmakers have been arrested or relocated abroad. Au Nok-hin, who led the chant of “Down with John Lee” in that council meeting three years ago, was among 55 opposition members arrested last year under the national security law.

Lee’s opponents worry that the former security czar could eventually turn Hong Kong into another mainland Chinese city by further eroding its once proud traditions of freedom of the press, for example. Last year, Lee oversaw the asset freeze of media mogul Jimmy Lai, which ultimately led to the shutdown of one of the city’s most popular pro-democracy tabloid newspapers. Apple Daily

In November, Lee told RTHK, the local public broadcaster, that the government was exploring “other tactics” to tackle “fake news” through legislation.

Crowds of people cross the street.  Election posters hang in high buildings.
Election posters in Hong Kong ahead of the 2021 general election in the Legislative Council. Photo: Alex Chan Tsz Yuk/Sopa Images/Rex

A few months earlier, the city’s new police chief, Raymond Siu, called for a “fake news law” to tackle “hostility to the police.” Despite being the only candidate for the top job, Lee has made policy commitments in recent weeks and has received a growing number of supporters from the city’s establishment. On April 20, 148 high-profile figures, including tycoon Li Ka-shing and movie star Jackie Chan, joined his campaign as advisers. Lee is widely seen as a “trustworthy and devoutly loyal” figure to Beijing.

Dissent has largely disappeared after last year’s electoral changes that allowed only “patriots” in legislature polls. Before the vote in December, Lee warned that candidates who had been barred from running for failing to meet the “patriot” criteria would try to thwart the election. “We have to make sure they don’t succeed,” he said.

Analysts say stability and security will be Lee’s main focus. In a closed-door rally on Friday, Lee met with more than 1,000 local figures who will vote and urged the public to have a “collective mindset”. His supporters also praised him for “helping Hong Kong restore order to chaos”.

According to a 44-page manifesto published last week, Lee’s priority would be to enact Article 23 of the city’s constitution. Previous Hong Kong governments had repeatedly tried – but failed – to pull it off.

“But whether he would introduce Article 23 is a moot point,” said Prof. Steve Tsang, Hong Kong political expert at SOAS in London. “This is because the state security apparatus is already in place through national security law. Therefore, there is no guarantee that they will eventually.”

Hung said Lee’s security background inevitably sends a strong message, but if you look at the dynamics between Hong Kong and Beijing over the course of the Covid outbreak in the city earlier this year, you could also see the ultimate limit to the rule of China. Beijing in the city.

“It seems to me that Beijing has still not decided how to strike a balance between security and preserving Hong Kong’s unique role as an offshore financial center. The tug-of-war will continue under Lee’s supervision for some time to come,” he added.

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