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

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If all had gone in accordance to strategy, John Lee would now be nearing retirement just after a very long vocation in engineering. Instead, the previous Hong Kong policeman and security tsar stands on the cusp of turning out to be the territory’s next chief executive.

The predicted appointment of Lee, 64, as Hong Kong’s fifth main executive due to the fact the previous British colony reverted to Chinese sovereignty in 1997 was all but certain this week after the incumbent, Carrie Lam, announced that she would not find a 2nd 5-12 months term. Even before Lee verified his wish to exchange 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 all the things goes as scripted, Lee, who is at the moment Hong Kong’s next best rating formal, will be sworn in on July 1. This falls exactly halfway as a result of the 50 several years of “one country, two systems” autonomy that Beijing guaranteed to Hong Kong. He will inherit a city that has improved radically around new years, its previously strong freedoms and boisterous civil culture decimated by the national safety regulation imposed two years back by Chinese president Xi Jinping.

Hong Kong’s status as just one of the world’s terrific worldwide economic centres also hangs in the balance, as Xi’s rigid “zero-Covid” pandemic controls slice it off from both of those the exterior environment and its Chinese hinterland.

“John signifies the significance of security and a secure setting for Hong Kong,” says Ronny Tong, a member of the cabinet that advises Lam. He provides that experienced Beijing opted in its place to back Lam’s monetary secretary, Paul Chan, it would have indicated Xi’s administration was “putting money recovery at the forefront” of Hong Kong’s policy agenda. According to Tong, “John and Paul symbolize two solely unique approaches.”

From a modest history, Lee excelled academically and earned a put with the engineering college at the University of Hong Kong. But he in no way took it up, as a substitute signing up for the law enforcement power straight out of superior college in 1977. Soon after that, Lee all but disappeared into the drive for the improved part of 40 a long time in advance of a late entry into politics in which he rose to prominence as Lam’s security secretary in 2017.

“He has been reasonably reduced profile till just lately persons really don’t know a large amount 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 exactly where formal asset declarations often reveal large residence portfolios and unique club memberships amid general public servants, Lee has a single apartment in a rather silent neighbourhood and belongs to a handful of law enforcement officer associations.

If it have been not for two historic blunders by Lam that finished her hope of serving a second expression, Lee might have faded away into a tranquil retirement. Ironically, in gentle of his imminent advertising, he was carefully involved in each. In 2019 Lam proposed legislation that would have permitted Hong Kong citizens 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 public mood, sparking the greatest pro-democracy motion on Chinese soil due to the fact the 1989 Tiananmen Sq. protests. Mass protests ensued — which include one particular attended by an estimated 2mn of Hong Kong’s 7.5mn inhabitants. The bill was reluctantly withdrawn by the govt.

Then, right after Covid-19 erupted out of central China in January 2020, Lam’s administration unsuccessful to vaccinate more than enough of Hong Kong’s vulnerable aged. When the territory’s formerly successful defences ended up overcome by the Omicron variant before this 12 months, much more than 8,000 people died in only 3 months. By this time Lee experienced been promoted to chief secretary and performed a critical part in the bungled reaction.

Finally Lee has been rewarded for encouraging to crush the pro-democracy motion, correcting, in Beijing’s eyes, Lam’s to start with blunder. This was created simpler by the nationwide safety regulation bludgeon Xi handed him in June 2020. Lee has unapologetically deployed it from pro-democracy legislators and activists, dozens of whom are now in prison or exile. His promotion is a sign that Beijing views this process as significantly from in excess of.

Soon 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 government John Lee can be relied on to preserve Hong Kong steady and risk-free from the issues posed by foreign powers,” says Lau, the election committee member.

Though a single professional-Beijing company determine claims that “knowing the ins and outs of the economic climate isn’t what [Lee] is acknowledged for”, he and other supporters argue that the chief govt-in-ready can delegate economic and economical conclusion-producing to people who do. That way, Lee can go on to emphasis on the safety and security — Beijing type — that they feel is a prerequisite if Hong Kong is to arise from its zero-Covid coma.

“It is simple that economics is not John Lee’s toughness,” agrees Ip Kwok-him, a cupboard member, who believes “he will lead the town well” no matter. Expertise in economics and finance, soon after all, is not what China is trying to find in Hong Kong’s subsequent main executive.

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