Xi Jinping backs new Hong Kong leader John Lee to maintain ‘order’

John Lee, on his first trip to Beijing since his appointment as Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, met Chinese President Xi Jinping, who was all praise for him

May 30, 2022 10:06 pm | Updated 10:06 pm IST - Hong Kong

Hong Kong Chief Executive-elect John Lee, left, meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping on May 30 in Beijing

Hong Kong Chief Executive-elect John Lee, left, meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping on May 30 in Beijing | Photo Credit: AP

China’s President Xi Jinping on Monday backed Hong Kong’s new leader John Lee, a long-time security official, to maintain order and stability in the Chinese Special Administrative Region (SAR) as he prepares to take office on July 1.

Mr. Lee on Monday made his first trip to Beijing following his appointment on May 8 by an election committee, to succeed Carrie Lam as Hong Kong’s fifth Chief Executive. He received his official appointment letter from second-ranked leader and Premier Li Keqiang in the Chinese capital on Monday.

Key role during 2019 protests

Mr. Xi told him in a separate meeting that Hong Kong “achieved a major transition from chaos to order”, appearing to refer to the 2019 protests. As a top security official at the time, Mr. Lee, who served for decades in the Hong Kong police force, played a key role during a turbulent year that saw the protests often descending into clashes between the police and protesters.

The Chinese leader praised Mr. Lee for “making contributions to safeguarding national security and Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability in various roles”. He also defended the new electoral system under which Mr. Lee was chosen as “playing a decisive role in implementing the principle of ‘patriots administering Hong Kong’”.

National security law

Following the protests, Beijing passed a new national security law that brought the closure of several pro-democracy opposition groups as well as of several independent media outlets. Beijing also overhauled Hong Kong’s electoral system under the principle of “patriots” governing Hong Kong. The share of directly elected representatives in the legislature has also been reduced.

Mr. Xi said the system was “in line with the ‘one country, two systems’ principle and suited to Hong Kong’s realities and needs for development” and would be “upheld for a long time to come”.

Lee’s challenge to shore up economy

The pressing challenge that Mr. Lee faces as he takes over on July 1, the 25th anniversary of the former British colony’s return to China, is shoring up Hong Kong’s status as the region’s financial centre.

The SAR dealt with a crippling COVID-19 wave at the start of the year but has since returned to some normalcy. The government is facing calls from the business community to ease travel restrictions, such as the mandatory seven-day quarantine for arrivals and flight bans if a certain number of passengers tests positive.

The economy contracted by 6.5% in 2020 and recovered to grow 6.4% in 2021. It also faces a challenge of retaining talent amid a recent exodus of professionals who have either returned home or moved to West Asia or Singapore, mostly because of the travel restrictions resulting in family separations.

Some companies have also expressed concern over the impact of the national security legislation. Two U. K. judges serving on the Court of Final Appeal resigned citing the law and what they saw as the erosion of the judicial independence that made Hong Kong a unique enclave within China under the “one country, two systems” model.

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