John Lee, a former beat cop who turned Hong Kong’s safety chief and performed a key function in suppressing democracy protests, turned the enterprise hub’s new chief on Friday in a ceremony overseen by Chinese language President Xi Jinping.
“It’s the best honour for me at the moment to shoulder this historic mission given to me by the central authorities and the individuals of Hong Kong,” Lee stated in his inauguration speech, thanking Beijing for its assist.
Lee, 64, was anointed as Hong Kong’s subsequent chief government by a small committee in Might, successful 99 % of the votes in a choreographed, Beijing-blessed race through which no different candidates stood.
Xi later stated Lee’s authorities would ship a “new chapter” for Hong Kong.
Lee’s elevation caps a exceptional rise for a person whose police profession lifted him from a working-class household to the higher echelons of Hong Kong’s political institution.
It additionally locations a safety official within the metropolis’s high job for the primary time, a person who was pivotal within the quashing of big democracy protests in 2019 and Beijing’s subsequent political crackdown.
Insiders say Lee’s unwavering dedication to that function gained China’s confidence at a time when different Hong Kong elite have been seen as insufficiently loyal or competent.
“John Lee is the one which the central authorities is aware of the most effective, as a result of he was in fixed contact and interplay with the mainland,” pro-establishment lawmaker and distinguished enterprise determine Michael Tien instructed AFP earlier this 12 months.
Lee, who’s below US sanctions, spent 35 years within the police earlier than leaping to the federal government in 2012, adopted by a swift rise to the highest.
Legislation and order remained his portfolio, with him serving within the Safety Bureau after which main it earlier than turning into town’s quantity two official final 12 months.
Lee, a Catholic, grew up poor in Sham Shui Po — considered one of rich Hong Kong’s working-class districts — however made his method to an elite boys’ faculty run by Jesuits.
Peter Lai, a former banker and classmate, described him as a intelligent and trendy teenager who grew lengthy hair and wore flared trousers.
Most of his contemporaries went to school, however Lee turned down a proposal to check engineering to affix the police.
He later instructed a pro-Beijing newspaper he was motivated by being bullied by neighbourhood hooligans.
Two former classmates gave a extra sensible motive — the police pressure provided a steady profession for Lee and his pregnant spouse Janet.
Lee has not spoken a lot about his household and has dodged questions on whether or not his spouse and two sons nonetheless maintain British nationality, one thing he renounced when he joined the federal government.
As occasions started on Friday morning, Lee’s new social media accounts posted an image of his spouse fixing his tie, thanking her for “silently supporting me and caring for the household through the years”.
Given his safety background, it appears unlikely Lee will reverse Beijing’s marketing campaign in opposition to dissent.
The place he’ll enter much less acquainted territory is the world of enterprise.
Hong Kong, as soon as a vibrant, multicultural enterprise hub, has been reduce off internationally throughout the pandemic because it shadows Beijing’s strict zero-Covid technique.
Its financial system is struggling and there was an exodus of expertise.
Danny Lau, a small enterprise affiliation chief, stated Lee was not a super candidate however that he would reserve judgement.
“I hope he can take into account Hong Kong’s worldwide competitiveness and doesn’t waste time on making legal guidelines unhelpful for town’s financial system,” Lau instructed AFP.
However others say Lee’s appointment confirms that China now places Hong Kong’s political safety forward of enterprise and livelihood points.
“Previously, China may compromise for some financial advantages,” Charles Mok, a former pro-democracy lawmaker now dwelling abroad, instructed AFP.
“However now it appears Beijing desires its individuals to really feel that the world is stuffed with threats and it is solely secure to stay carefully to the (Communist) Celebration.”