Science & Tech

Hong Kong Chief Executive-elect John Lee ushers in a new era of restriction

John Lee is the brand new chief government of Hong Kong. The 64-year-old ran the one permitted marketing campaign to succeed Carrie Lam, the embattled head of the Chinese territory who oversaw a dramatic degradation to democratic establishments all through 2019’s pro-democracy protests. Lee’s tenure will possible convey extra of the identical: a former deputy chief of Hong Kong’s police pressure, he was instrumental within the brutal crackdowns on pro-democracy activists.

As the only real Beijing-approved candidate to switch Lam, Lee’s victory was all however assured as quickly as he introduced his candidacy. While Hong Kong doesn’t have what Americans would acknowledge as a democratic electoral system, earlier elections have seen a number of candidates vie for Hong Kong’s prime job. But this yr, Lee was the one particular person Beijing apparently deemed sufficiently loyal to China’s Communist Party below its new electoral insurance policies for Hong Kong, unveiled final March. He gained handily with 99 % of the votes from the 1,500-member electoral fee.

Since 2019, the Chinese authorities has instituted legal guidelines and insurance policies which have eroded the relative autonomy that Hong Kong loved after the territory was returned from the UK to China in 1997. Protests about adjustments to extradition legal guidelines, which might enable Hong Kong residents accused of crimes could possibly be extradited to mainland China for trial, erupted throughout the area amid calls for for strengthened democratic establishments. Those protests, though they have been efficient in indefinitely delaying the extradition legal guidelines, resulted in the end in a nationwide safety regulation being enacted. Under that regulation, many high-profile activists like Agnes Chow, a pro-democracy activist and member of pro-democracy civil society group Demosisto, in addition to opposition politicians and enterprise leaders, have been arrested. Since then, a “climate of fear” has pervaded town and just about extinguished the democratic resistance motion, in line with a February 2021 evaluation by Thomas E. Kellogg and Lydia Wong of the Georgetown Center for Asian Law. (Lydia Wong is a pseudonym for a scholar working within the People’s Republic of China.)

The authorities in mainland China additionally instituted a number of reforms to Hong Kong’s governing construction, which helped solidify China’s management over town, as Michael Martin of the Center for Strategic and International Studies outlined in a February report. Twelve pro-democracy candidates have been barred from working within the 2020 Legislative Council (Hong Kong’s legislature, typically shortened to LegCo) elections, which have been then postponed till December 2021. In the meantime, China’s Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC), with Lam’s assist, instituted adjustments to Hong Kong’s Basic Law — town’s governing constitution — assuring a better proportion of seats on the LegCo would pleasant to China.

The Standing Committee of the NPC additionally created an establishment to vet potential political candidates, the Candidate Eligibility Review Committee, or CERC. As of April 14, the CERC had solely 4 members — all unelected authorities officers — and three non-official members, in line with a authorities press launch. Lee, now poised to take over as Hong Kong’s chief government, was till April 7 the chair of the CERC.

John Lee will likely be Beijing’s enforcer

Prior to becoming a member of Hong Kong’s authorities as Chief Secretary for Administration — the second-most highly effective place within the authorities — Lee was the deputy head of the police pressure and a profession cop, having joined the pressure in 1977. He’ll be the primary chief government from the police pressure within the 25 years since its handover to China, and can take workplace on July 1, the anniversary of that day.

Over the previous 4 a long time, Lee rose by the ranks of town’s police pressure to develop into the Secretary of Security, overseeing town’s police pressure through the 2019 protests over the extradition invoice (for which, in line with the BBC, Lee was a robust advocate). During his tenure, Hong Kong police have been strongly criticized for utilizing extreme pressure, equivalent to deploying rubber bullets, tear fuel, and water cannons, and infrequently utilizing reside ammunition in opposition to protesters. Lee defended the usage of pressure and the response to the protest, together with the National Security Law, saying it had helped “restore stability from chaos.

Lee has additionally mentioned he intends to enact laws that may “prohibit any act of treason, secession, sedition, subversion,” which is authorized below Article 23 of Hong Kong’s Basic Law, in a bid to rid town of “the ideology of Hong Kong independence, violence and extremism.”

While his insurance policies and response to the 2019 and 2020 pro-democracy protests clearly happy Beijing, the US Treasury Department sanctioned Lee, Lam, and different authorities officers for “undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy and restricting the freedom of expression or assembly of the citizens of Hong Kong” in August 2020. Lee was particularly designated for his position in “coercing, arresting, detaining, or imprisoning individuals under the authority of the National Security Law, as well as being involved in its development, adoption, or implementation,” in line with a press launch from the Office of Foreign Assets Control. However, on condition that the order applies solely to belongings which can be within the US or below the management of US individuals, it gained’t possible have an effect on his financial standing. It might doubtlessly increase issues as Lee tries to salvage Hong Kong’s financial system after the Covid-19 pandemic and the National Security Law pushed foreigners and worldwide corporations out of town, although.

Lee’s choice isn’t utterly with out precedent, both. Beijing has typically had a most well-liked candidate within the contest for chief government. But the uncontested run of the previous safety chief is nearly too on-the-nose after pro-democracy activism and requires Hong Kong independence threatened China’s grip on town. It additionally factors to the erosion of the civil service in Hong Kong. Lee’s not a part of the civil service and political class, or a enterprise chief, as previous chief executives have been. Rather, the dear experience he brings to the job is his loyalty to Beijing, Kenneth Chan Ka-lok, previously a pro-democracy lawmaker and affiliate professor at Hong Kong Baptist University, instructed the Washington Post in April, after Lee introduced his candidacy. “What matters most is that Lee is a cadre appointed by Beijing. As long as he can serve his master well, [Hong Kong’s] pro-establishment side will not have a voice that deviates far from his,” he mentioned.

The undeniable fact that loyalty, slightly than competency, is a very powerful high quality for management in Hong Kong doesn’t bode notably effectively for the long run, Ho-fung Hung, a professor of political financial system at Johns Hopkins University and an skilled on the politics of Hong Kong instructed the Post. Hung predicted that Lee’s management factors to the “gradual erosion of professionalism spirit in Hong Kong in all quarters of society will be continuing or even speeding up.”

Can Lee shore up Hong Kong’s battered enterprise sector?

Lee’s lack of expertise — both in authorities or in enterprise — places him in a troublesome place in relation to one of many predominant mandates of his management: rebuilding Hong Kong’s financial system after the one-two punch of the National Security Law and the Covid-19 pandemic.

Hong Kong has occupied a center place over the previous 25 years, with a level of social and political autonomy far exceeding that of mainland China — encompassed within the “one party, two systems” philosophy that has ruled Hong Kong since 1997. That stage of Western-style openness and freedom, coupled with tax breaks, attracted worldwide corporations and hundreds of expats. However, because the Associated Press reported final yr, a survey from the American Chamber of Commerce final yr confirmed that 40 % of expats surveyed that May have been contemplating leaving Hong Kong as a result of National Security Law, and plenty of worldwide corporations moved their operations elsewhere.

Furthermore, the Covid-19 pandemic shut off town, and breakouts crippled the well being system. The dynamic zero-Covid coverage employed by the Chinese authorities has added to the exodus, with greater than 150,000 individuals leaving because the starting of 2022, in line with Al Jazeera. “It’s an unarguable fact that we have a brain drain and some senior management of some corporates have left Hong Kong,” Lam mentioned of town’s Covid-19 insurance policies.

Lee is tasked with shoring up Hong Kong’s enterprise sector as soon as once more, however as an alternative of luring worldwide corporations again, maybe with a much less restrictive political ambiance and Covid-19 coverage, he’s proposing a special strategy altogether: Opening the border with mainland China and growing the northern a part of the island, the so-called Northern Metropolis, as an choice to alleviate town’s housing disaster — and shore up connections with the mainland.

“He may be a decisive leader. He may make the city function better. That’s true. But he’s not a businessman. He doesn’t have links to business,” Tara Joseph, the previous president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, instructed Al Jazeera. “He has links to the security apparatus.”

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