John Lee, Hong Kong’s security tsar turned chief executive-in-waiting

ByThelma D. Griggs

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If all had long gone according to system, John Lee would now be nearing retirement immediately after a lengthy profession in engineering. As a substitute, the former Hong Kong policeman and safety tsar stands on the cusp of turning out to be the territory’s next chief govt.

The anticipated appointment of Lee, 64, as Hong Kong’s fifth chief govt because the previous British colony reverted to Chinese sovereignty in 1997 was all but confident this 7 days after the incumbent, Carrie Lam, announced that she would not request a 2nd 5-calendar year phrase. Even before Lee verified his want to exchange her, the Chinese Communist party’s associates in the territory instructed a 1,500-seat, “patriots only” election committee to back again him in the Might 8 vote.

Assuming everything goes as scripted, Lee, who is currently Hong Kong’s second highest rating official, will be sworn in on July 1. This falls precisely midway via the 50 years of “one place, two systems” autonomy that Beijing confirmed to Hong Kong. He will inherit a town that has changed dramatically over latest years, its previously strong freedoms and boisterous civil society decimated by the nationwide stability legislation imposed two several years in the past by Chinese president Xi Jinping.

Hong Kong’s status as just one of the world’s great worldwide economical centres also hangs in the stability, as Xi’s strict “zero-Covid” pandemic controls minimize it off from the two the outside world and its Chinese hinterland.

“John signifies the value of stability and a stable setting for Hong Kong,” claims Ronny Tong, a member of the cabinet that advises Lam. He provides that had Beijing opted instead to back Lam’s economic secretary, Paul Chan, it would have indicated Xi’s administration was “putting monetary restoration at the forefront” of Hong Kong’s coverage agenda. According to Tong, “John and Paul symbolize two solely various approaches.”

From a modest history, Lee excelled academically and earned a location with the engineering school at the University of Hong Kong. But he in no way took it up, alternatively becoming a member of the police power straight out of high school in 1977. After that, Lee all but disappeared into the power for the much better part of 40 a long time ahead of a late entry into politics in which he rose to prominence as Lam’s protection secretary in 2017.

“He has been relatively low profile right up until recently people don’t know a whole lot about him,” states Lau Chi-pang, a professor at Lingnan University who sits on the election committee that will rubber-stamp Lee’s appointment.

In a town the place formal asset declarations typically expose vast assets portfolios and exceptional club memberships amid general public servants, Lee has one apartment in a rather peaceful neighbourhood and belongs to a handful of law enforcement officer associations.

If it were being not for two historic blunders by Lam that finished her hope of serving a second expression, Lee may well have pale absent into a quiet retirement. Ironically, in gentle of his imminent advertising, he was closely concerned in equally. In 2019 Lam proposed legislation that would have allowed Hong Kong residents to be extradited to mainland China if desired by the authorities there. As protection secretary, Lee lobbied prominently for the controversial monthly bill.

It proved to be a disastrous misreading of the public temper, sparking the major pro-democracy movement on Chinese soil considering that the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. Mass protests ensued — which includes 1 attended by an approximated 2mn of Hong Kong’s 7.5mn inhabitants. The bill was reluctantly withdrawn by the government.

Then, following Covid-19 erupted out of central China in January 2020, Lam’s administration unsuccessful to vaccinate plenty of of Hong Kong’s susceptible aged. When the territory’s earlier successful defences had been overwhelmed by the Omicron variant earlier this calendar year, extra than 8,000 men and women died in only three months. By this time Lee had been promoted to chief secretary and performed a important role in the bungled response.

In the long run Lee has been rewarded for supporting to crush the pro-democracy motion, correcting, in Beijing’s eyes, Lam’s 1st slip-up. This was produced a lot easier by the national protection regulation bludgeon Xi handed him in June 2020. Lee has unapologetically deployed it against pro-democracy legislators and activists, dozens of whom are now in jail or exile. His marketing is a signal that Beijing sights this method as significantly from in excess of.

Following the Trump administration sanctioned him, Lam and other senior officers for aiding and abetting Xi’s “degradation of Hong Kong’s autonomy”, Lee responded: “I never care . . . I scoff at [the sanctions]. I despise them.”

“In the eyes of the central govt John Lee can be relied on to preserve Hong Kong secure and safe and sound from the challenges posed by foreign powers,” suggests Lau, the election committee member.

Whilst one particular professional-Beijing business enterprise figure claims that “knowing the ins and outs of the financial system is not what [Lee] is acknowledged for”, he and other supporters argue that the chief govt-in-waiting around can delegate economic and fiscal decision-generating to people today who do. That way, Lee can continue on to target on the stability and balance — Beijing model — that they think is a prerequisite if Hong Kong is to arise from its zero-Covid coma.

“It is simple that economics is not John Lee’s strength,” agrees Ip Kwok-him, a cupboard member, who thinks “he will direct the metropolis well” irrespective. Know-how in economics and finance, right after all, is not what China is looking for in Hong Kong’s upcoming main govt.

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