If all experienced long gone according to approach, John Lee would now be nearing retirement soon after a prolonged job in engineering. Rather, the previous Hong Kong policeman and security tsar stands on the cusp of getting the territory’s up coming chief govt.
The predicted appointment of Lee, 64, as Hong Kong’s fifth main executive because the former British colony reverted to Chinese sovereignty in 1997 was all but certain this 7 days right after the incumbent, Carrie Lam, declared that she would not search for a next five-yr term. Even before Lee confirmed his want to swap 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 possibly 8 vote.
Assuming every thing goes as scripted, Lee, who is currently Hong Kong’s next best position formal, will be sworn in on July 1. This falls precisely midway by the 50 years of “one place, two systems” autonomy that Beijing assured to Hong Kong. He will inherit a town that has modified significantly around latest a long time, its earlier robust freedoms and boisterous civil culture decimated by the countrywide protection regulation imposed two years in the past by Chinese president Xi Jinping.
Hong Kong’s status as 1 of the world’s terrific intercontinental economical centres also hangs in the equilibrium, as Xi’s stringent “zero-Covid” pandemic controls reduce it off from both of those the outdoors globe and its Chinese hinterland.
“John signifies the value of safety and a stable setting for Hong Kong,” says Ronny Tong, a member of the cupboard that advises Lam. He provides that had Beijing opted as a substitute to again Lam’s economical secretary, Paul Chan, it would have indicated Xi’s administration was “putting fiscal restoration at the forefront” of Hong Kong’s policy agenda. According to Tong, “John and Paul symbolize two fully unique methods.”
From a modest qualifications, Lee excelled academically and gained a place with the engineering college at the College of Hong Kong. But he never took it up, instead signing up for the police force straight out of large faculty in 1977. Following that, Lee all but disappeared into the pressure for the far better element of 40 decades prior to a late entry into politics in which he rose to prominence as Lam’s security secretary in 2017.
“He has been quite minimal profile until eventually not too long ago folks do not know a great deal about him,” says Lau Chi-pang, a professor at Lingnan University who sits on the election committee that will rubber-stamp Lee’s appointment.
In a city exactly where formal asset declarations usually expose vast property portfolios and special club memberships amid general public servants, Lee has a single apartment in a relatively tranquil 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 second phrase, Lee may possibly have faded absent into a tranquil retirement. Ironically, in light of his imminent advertising, he was intently included in equally. In 2019 Lam proposed laws that would have permitted Hong Kong residents to be extradited to mainland China if preferred by the authorities there. As stability secretary, Lee lobbied prominently for the controversial bill.
It proved to be a disastrous misreading of the community mood, sparking the major professional-democracy movement on Chinese soil because the 1989 Tiananmen Sq. protests. Mass protests ensued — like one particular attended by an approximated 2mn of Hong Kong’s 7.5mn populace. The invoice was reluctantly withdrawn by the government.
Then, right after Covid-19 erupted out of central China in January 2020, Lam’s administration failed to vaccinate sufficient of Hong Kong’s vulnerable aged. When the territory’s earlier effective defences had been overwhelmed by the Omicron variant before this year, extra than 8,000 men and women died in only 3 months. By this time Lee experienced been promoted to main secretary and played a key part in the bungled response.
Ultimately Lee has been rewarded for assisting to crush the professional-democracy motion, correcting, in Beijing’s eyes, Lam’s first oversight. This was made simpler by the countrywide security law bludgeon Xi handed him in June 2020. Lee has unapologetically deployed it from professional-democracy legislators and activists, dozens of whom are now in jail or exile. His advertising is a sign that Beijing views this process as much 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 retain Hong Kong stable and harmless from the problems posed by international powers,” states Lau, the election committee member.
Even though a person pro-Beijing business figure claims that “knowing the ins and outs of the economy is not what [Lee] is acknowledged for”, he and other supporters argue that the main govt-in-ready can delegate financial and economic decision-building to persons who do. That way, Lee can continue to concentration on the security and security — Beijing type — that they feel is a prerequisite if Hong Kong is to emerge from its zero-Covid coma.
“It is plain that economics is not John Lee’s toughness,” agrees Ip Kwok-him, a cupboard member, who thinks “he will guide the city well” no matter. Knowledge in economics and finance, right after all, is not what China is looking for in Hong Kong’s following chief government.