Upon the current Chief Executive Carrie Lam announcing her recantation from seeking the second term in office, John Lee has been chosen as the successor. A lone-horse race to the office has been widely expected for the 64-year-old after an uncontested leadership election next month. John Lee, the former top security officer is said to be China’s ideal choice to be Hong Kong’s next chief executive. China’s affection towards the man has increased manifold for his first-hand involvement during the crackdown against pro-democracy protestors in 2019. He further facilitated the new security law and is expected for its smooth execution in a territory tightly controlled by Beijing. John Lee is so far, the single candidate approved by China to run for the office on May 8.
About John Lee
Born on 7th December 1957, John Lee was a former police officer who is now a seasoned politician and an influential character in China’s political spectrum. Lee has previously served as Chief Secretary of Administration during the Carrie Lam regime. Lee joined the Royal Hong Kong Police Force at the age of 19 as a probationary inspector in 1977 and was later promoted to Chief Inspector in 1984 and further made a Chief Superintendent in 1997. He kept regular recognition and accolades in the police department and was even made the Deputy Commissioner of Hong Kong Police in 2010. During his tenure as a police officer, Lee also obtained a master’s degree in Public Policy and Administration from Charles Sturt University in Australia.
Upon completing his stint at the police department, Lee was appointed as the Under Secretary for Security in 2012 under the Leung Chun-Ying and was later promoted to Secretary for Security in 2017 during Carrie Lam’s administerial tenure. However, Lee rose to fame with his close and unmediated efforts in unveiling the 2019 Hong Kong extradition bill and the revised National Security Law in 2021. Lee was later a part of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. Lee was invariably the Chinese pawn on Hong Kong’s soil who believed and further aimed to transpire the new PLA-style marching, upholding the nationalistic sentiments and strengthening awareness of national security.
The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China in 2021 appointed Lee as Chief Secretary for Administration making him the third police officer to helm this position as the most senior minister in the government.
Recent developments concerning John Lee
Ever since Carrie Lam promoted Lee to Secretary for Security in 2017, he set out on furnishing China’s ambition of curtailing the freedom of independent-minded Hong Kong. Lee, therefore, had numerous trips to China’s northwestern Xinjiang region (infamous for human rights violations against the Uyghur minority) to study and document the counterterrorism measures taken by the authorities there. He observed that the precautionary and even hostile measures were extremely humane and considerate which were ultra vires to the Chinese construct. As a consequence, a controversial bill regarding extraditions from Hong Kong to mainland China was chalked out by Lam in close association with Lee. The legislation naturally prompted anti-government protests which brought millions of people on the road. The protest observed the gallant and brave efforts of the protesters repeatedly shouting and signaling hand gestures in furtherance of getting their demands fulfilled. The demands entailed the ever-usual Universal Suffrage, no limits on candidacy, greater police accountability, and amnesty for political prisoners. The protest marked the second-largest public outrage since the 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstrations 1989. Lee was handed the baton to oversee the crackdown. Needless to say, the crackdown observed numerous violations of internal rules on the use of force. However, no officer or government official was held liable for the abuse of power during the protest. Although, the US did impose numerous sanctions on Lee, Lam, and nine other Hong Kong and mainland officials regarding ‘restricting the freedom of expression or assembly of the citizens of Hong Kong.
Public Perception of Lee
The pro-democracy population in Hong Kong is largely disappointed by mainland China since time immemorial. Time and again, the patience of freedom-embodying citizens has been tested. With revised national security laws, new extradition policies, and many other organized ways of human rights violations, the civil population is hugely disturbed and collectively distorted. Therefore, at such a time where peace and collective well-being is in short supply, China’s ‘ideal’ choice of running John Lee, who is one of the unmediated personnel responsible for the crackdown, as the sole Chief Executive candidate sends out a clear unflinching message. By selecting Lee, Beijing has effectively invalidated Hong Kong’s civil service discipline. A discipline that reaped two of Hong Kong’s four chief executives including Lam and appealed to Western business and was solely responsible for granting Hong Kong the status of the financial center, has been compellingly sidelined.
Lam leaves the office and her whole legacy to a far more polarized society. The thinkers, critics, and officials opine that her failures in the political sphere are a product of arrogance, pride, and inability to listen to constituents. Kenneth Chan Ka-lok, a former pro-democracy lawmaker and an associate professor at Hong Kong Baptist University said that it does not matter whether Lee is a humble, down-to-earth guy. All it matters is that Lee is a pawn, a cadre appointed by Beijing, and therefore as long as he serves his master well, Hong Kong’s pro-establishment voice would never get a locus to be heard.
Selecting a police officer instead of a civil servant sends down a clear message to the public that the civil service is just a mirage. Behind the facade of glorified civil services, Beijing believes candidates from disciplined services like police and military are more dependable and exhibit better and more efficient political loyalty.
Hong Kong sorrily suffers the same fate as that of Kashmir in India. Under the term of its handover to China in 1997, Hong Kong was promised autonomy with ‘Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong’ just as how Kashmir was promised a referendum post-accession. However, neither of the two seems to have panned out for the better. Representative elections are the genus of any constitution that later branches to the allocation of administerial resources and organs of governance. Alas, the quest for representative elections also appears to be suffering the same fate as that of human rights as this race, has only one real candidate.
Traditionally, the chief executive was to be selected by a handpicked panel of about 1500 members of the political and business elite known as the election committee. However, last year, Beijing overhauled Hong Kong’s electoral system and categorically specified that only ‘patriots’ – those loyal to the Communist Party – could run for the office. As a result, the changes reduced the number of elective seats in the legislature and also rigidified the rules as to who could qualify and change the representation of the committee that picks the chief executive.
Lee is apparently to be sworn on 1st July which marks the 25th anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover by Britain. The ‘one country, two systems’ arrangement handed over by Great Britain is in clear contravention to the current system as Beijing’s message to the world is clear that Hong Kong will never be able to deviate from China’s tracks of governance.