China installs former security chief as Hong Kong leader

HONG KONG: China is installing a career security official as Hong Kong’s new leader in the culmination of a sweeping political transformation that has destroyed any opposition in the Asian financial hub and placed it even more firmly under Beijing’s control. . John Lee, previously the No. 2 city official, is the only candidate Sunday in what is an election in name only.
Well over half of the 1,500-member Electoral Committee that selects the chief executive have already endorsed him and he only needs a simple majority to win.
Lee will replace Carrie Lam on July 1. His five-year term was marked by Hong Kong’s most tumultuous period since the former British colony was returned to China in 1997.
The election follows major changes to Hong Kong’s electoral laws last year to ensure only “patriots” loyal to Beijing can hold office.
That also saw the reshuffling of the legislature to all but eliminate opposition voices.
The elaborate arrangements surrounding the predetermined outcome speak to Beijing’s desire for a semblance of democracy. Although they will vote in a secret ballot, all Hong Kong voters have been carefully vetted.
“Even autocracies today feel compelled to go through the motions of organizing an election in order to project greater legitimacy to their own population and to the international community,” said Yvonne Chiu, a professor at the US Naval War College. .who has written extensively on Hong Kong Politics.
The four previous chief executives of the city were also effectively appointed by Beijing.
A push to choose the leader by popular vote failed in 2014 amid protests demanding that Beijing also give up the right to approve candidates.
Lee’s rise stemmed from mass pro-democracy protests in 2019 that turned into violent clashes.
As security secretary, he led the campaign to confront protesters with tear gas and rubber bullets, then rounded up many of them for later arrest.
Lam implemented Beijing’s orders and was widely seen as the face of the crackdown.
But the career bureaucrat still seemed out of step with China’s hard-line president and Communist Party leader Xi Jinping.
For his successor, Beijing chose Lee, a former top police official and strong supporter of the new National Security Law that prohibits subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces. More than 150 activists and others have been arrested since its implementation.
Following the law’s passage in 2020, the United States sanctioned Lee, Lam, and other government officials from Hong Kong and mainland China for “undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy and restricting freedom of expression or assembly.”
Nearly all critics of the government have been jailed, fled abroad, or intimidated into silence.
Thousands of residents have voted with their feet, with many professionals and others leaving the city of 7.4 million people.
The intensity of the 2019 protests appeared to have taken Beijing by surprise, prompting the imposition of the National Security Law the following year and the reshuffling of the legislature to put pro-Beijing forces firmly in charge in 2021.
Among the unintended effects has been the further alienation of Taiwan, the self-governing democratic island that China claims as its territory.
The Beijing crackdown was seen as an important factor in ensuring the 2020 re-election of pro-independence President Tsai Ing-wen.
While Lee has said he would boost Hong Kong’s competitiveness to ensure it remains “a gateway and bridge between our country and the world,” his election leaves little doubt that maintaining political stability is the priority.
That could come at the expense of Hong Kong’s reputation as a safe place to do business with a clear regulatory structure and an independent judiciary.
Britain has sacked two judges who had been appointed to Hong Kong’s high court to ensure the rule of law, saying their presence was “no longer tenable” due to increasingly oppressive laws enacted by China.
China’s long-ruling Communist Party holds that stability lays the foundation for economic growth and development.
Hong Kong’s once-thriving free press has taken a beating, with the pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily closed and its founder, Jimmy Lai, in jail.
Public broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong has been brought to its knees, with Hong Kong plummeting 80 places in Reporters Without Borders’ 2022 World Press Freedom Index.
The local Foreign Correspondents’ Club canceled its annual Human Rights Press Awards this year over national security concerns.
Fearing political repercussions, universities have cut ties with their student organizations, while the government has cut ties with the largest teachers’ union.
People in Hong Kong still have greater freedoms than their counterparts in mainland China, but any hope of greater democracy has been extinguished and replaced by concerns that the city is becoming more like other Chinese cities, albeit “a good place for everyone. to pretend business as usual with China,” Chiu said.

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