If all had absent in accordance to system, John Lee would now be nearing retirement just after a very long career in engineering. Rather, the former Hong Kong policeman and stability tsar stands on the cusp of turning out to be the territory’s following chief govt.
The predicted appointment of Lee, 64, as Hong Kong’s fifth chief government because the previous British colony reverted to Chinese sovereignty in 1997 was all but assured this week immediately after the incumbent, Carrie Lam, declared that she would not seek out a next 5-yr time period. Even before Lee confirmed his desire to switch her, the Chinese Communist party’s reps in the territory instructed a 1,500-seat, “patriots only” election committee to back him in the May well 8 vote.
Assuming almost everything goes as scripted, Lee, who is at the moment Hong Kong’s 2nd optimum rating formal, will be sworn in on July 1. This falls specifically halfway by way of the 50 several years of “one state, two systems” autonomy that Beijing confirmed to Hong Kong. He will inherit a metropolis that has adjusted substantially more than new years, its earlier robust freedoms and boisterous civil culture decimated by the nationwide safety legislation imposed two decades back by Chinese president Xi Jinping.
Hong Kong’s standing as one of the world’s great worldwide money centres also hangs in the equilibrium, as Xi’s stringent “zero-Covid” pandemic controls lower it off from both of those the exterior globe and its Chinese hinterland.
“John signifies the value of stability and a steady environment for Hong Kong,” states Ronny Tong, a member of the cupboard that advises Lam. He adds that experienced Beijing opted rather to back Lam’s economical secretary, Paul Chan, it would have indicated Xi’s administration was “putting economical restoration at the forefront” of Hong Kong’s policy agenda. According to Tong, “John and Paul depict two fully unique methods.”
From a modest qualifications, Lee excelled academically and attained a position with the engineering college at the College of Hong Kong. But he hardly ever took it up, alternatively becoming a member of the police force straight out of high university in 1977. Immediately after that, Lee all but disappeared into the drive for the better portion of 40 several years in advance of a late entry into politics in which he rose to prominence as Lam’s protection secretary in 2017.
“He has been fairly low profile until not too long ago individuals really do not know a lot about him,” says Lau Chi-pang, a professor at Lingnan College who sits on the election committee that will rubber-stamp Lee’s appointment.
In a metropolis wherever official asset declarations frequently expose broad home portfolios and distinctive club memberships among public servants, Lee has a person apartment in a relatively quiet neighbourhood and belongs to a handful of police officer associations.
If it were not for two historic blunders by Lam that ended her hope of serving a next phrase, Lee may well have light absent into a peaceful retirement. Ironically, in gentle of his imminent marketing, he was carefully involved in both of those. In 2019 Lam proposed laws that would have permitted Hong Kong inhabitants to be extradited to mainland China if needed by the authorities there. As security secretary, Lee lobbied prominently for the controversial invoice.
It proved to be a disastrous misreading of the community mood, sparking the most important pro-democracy movement on Chinese soil considering that the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. Mass protests ensued — which include 1 attended by an estimated 2mn of Hong Kong’s 7.5mn populace. The monthly bill was reluctantly withdrawn by the government.
Then, after Covid-19 erupted out of central China in January 2020, Lam’s administration unsuccessful to vaccinate enough of Hong Kong’s vulnerable elderly. When the territory’s beforehand helpful defences were being overwhelmed by the Omicron variant earlier this 12 months, far more than 8,000 folks died in only 3 months. By this time Lee had been promoted to main secretary and performed a critical function in the bungled reaction.
In the end Lee has been rewarded for encouraging to crush the pro-democracy movement, correcting, in Beijing’s eyes, Lam’s first mistake. This was designed a lot easier by the national stability legislation bludgeon Xi handed him in June 2020. Lee has unapologetically deployed it against pro-democracy legislators and activists, dozens of whom are now in prison or exile. His promotion is a sign that Beijing sights this course of action as significantly from about.
Just after 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 really 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 secure and protected from the issues posed by international powers,” says Lau, the election committee member.
While just one pro-Beijing enterprise determine states that “knowing the ins and outs of the economic system isn’t what [Lee] is recognized for”, he and other supporters argue that the chief govt-in-waiting can delegate financial and economical decision-generating to men and women who do. That way, Lee can go on to focus on the protection and security — Beijing type — 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 toughness,” agrees Ip Kwok-him, a cabinet member, who thinks “he will guide the metropolis well” no matter. Skills in economics and finance, right after all, is not what China is trying to find in Hong Kong’s up coming main govt.