March 25, 2023

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John Lee, a former police officer selected by Beijing to lead Hong Kong

Former Hong Kong defense chief John Lee is poised to capture the city, and his key role in suppressing the pro-democracy movement has made the former street guard a safe man for Beijing.

The only candidate for the post of Chief Executive of Hong Kong is Mr. Lee, 64, will be appointed Sunday by a team of about 1,500 people received in Beijing. He begins his five-year term on July 1, marking the 25th anniversary of England’s return to Hong Kong and China.

This working class man, who began his career from the bottom of the ladder as a plainclothes policeman, will be Hong Kong’s first leader from a police background.

John Lee was Hong Kong’s defense chief during the massive pro – democracy protests in 2019. He therefore oversaw the repression of the struggle and the subsequent drastic political takeover.

This made him appear on the list of Chinese and Hong Kong dignitaries recognized by the United States. But it also helped him gain Beijing’s confidence, which often led the Hong Kong elite to suspect unfaithfulness or incompetence.

“John Lee is well known to the federal government because he has constant contact and contact with the mainland of China,” businessman Michael Dean, a pro-Beijing government member, told AFP. Hong Kong Legislative Council.

– “Pass the exam” –

Mr. who was the head of security in Hong Kong. Lee’s predecessor, Lai Tung-kwak, told AFP that he had “passed the exam.”

John Lee’s visit marks the break with the four chief executives who preceded Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule in 1997, all from the business world or the administration.

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After 35 years of service in the police, Mr. Lee entered government in 2012 and enjoyed a stellar rise. Local media say he got the “Platinum Lift”. He has been the No. 2 executive since last year.

According to Xien-Yu Shih, an expert on Chinese security issues at the Taiwan Institute for National Defense, John Lee came to the fore during the 2019 pro-democracy protests in Beijing.

– “Terrorist” plot –

He actually took Beijing’s study with interest, according to which these huge gatherings in Hong Kong’s history were a “terrorist” plot hatched by “anti-Chinese forces”.

“Beijing is trying to find out which political figure is willing to follow in his footsteps,” he said, adding that Chinese leaders were constantly warning Hong Kong officials.

John Lee, a Catholic, was educated by the Jesuits and grew up in the famous district of Sham Shui Bo. He promised to study engineering and dropped out to join the police force. He later told a pro-Chinese newspaper that he had made the choice based on his profession after being harassed and attacked by thugs as a child.

Married with two sons, Mr. Lee is tight-lipped about his family. In particular, he declined to say whether he still had British citizenship, which he abandoned when he entered government.

He pledged to make “national security” one of his priorities, and set out the continuation of the opposition’s repression campaign launched by his predecessor, Gary Lam.

But it is in the field of economics that he is expected by the business circles of the third largest financial center in the world, which has practically cut itself off from the world since the onset of the epidemic.

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“I hope he thinks about Hong Kong’s international competitiveness and will not waste time enacting laws that do not apply to the city’s economy,” city chairman Danny Low told AFP, the small business owners’ association.

But the appointment of John Lee to the now-exiled former pro-democracy legislator Charles Mock proves that China has Hong Kong’s control over economic issues.

“In the past, China has been able to compromise in exchange for economic benefits,” he told the AFP. “But now that the people of Beijing want to see the world as a place full of threats, the only sure way is unshakable party loyalty.”