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Former Hong Kong police officer trusted by Beijing is sworn in

#Hong #Kong #police #officer #trusted #Beijing #sworn

John Lee, a former thug-cop-turned-security chief of Hong Kong and who played a key role in cracking down on pro-democracy protests, became the business hub’s new leader in a ceremony presided over by Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday.

“It is my greatest honor today to take on this historic mission entrusted to me by the central authorities and the people of Hong Kong,” Lee said in his inaugural speech, thanking Beijing for its support.

Lee, 64, was anointed Hong Kong’s next chief executive by a small committee in May, winning 99 percent of the vote in a choreographed Beijing-blessed race in which no other candidate took part.

Xi later said Lee’s government would open a “new chapter” for Hong Kong.

Lee’s rise caps a remarkable rise for a man whose police career propelled him from a working-class family to the upper echelons of Hong Kong’s political establishment.

Also, for the first time, a security official will be appointed to the city’s helm, a man instrumental in crushing the major pro-democracy protests of 2019 and Beijing’s subsequent political crackdown.

Insiders say Lee’s unwavering commitment to the role won China’s trust at a time when other Hong Kong elites were seen as insufficiently loyal or competent.

“John Lee is the one the central government knows best because he has been in constant contact and exchanges with the mainland,” pro-establishment MP and prominent business figure Michael Tien told AFP earlier this year.

Lee, who is under US sanctions, spent 35 years in the police force before joining the government in 2012, followed by a rapid rise to the top.

Law and order remained his portfolio, serving in and then running the security office before becoming the city’s second-largest official last year.

– flares and long hair –

Lee, a Catholic, grew up poor in Sham Shui Po – one of Hong Kong’s affluent working-class neighborhoods – but made his way to an elite boys’ school run by Jesuits.

Peter Lai, a former banker and classmate, described him as a smart and stylish teenager who grew long hair and wore bell-bottoms.

Most of his contemporaries went to university, but Lee turned down an offer to study engineering to join the police force.

He later told a pro-Beijing newspaper that he was motivated by being bullied by neighborhood hooligans.

Two former classmates gave a more practical reason — the police were offering a secure career for Lee and his pregnant wife, Janet.

Lee hasn’t spoken much about his family and has dodged questions about whether his wife and two sons still hold British citizenship, which he renounced when he came into government.

As events began Friday morning, Lee’s new social media accounts posted a picture of his wife fixing his tie and thanked her for “being quietly supportive of me and looking after the family over the years.”

– Business acumen? –

Given his security background, it seems unlikely that Lee will reverse Beijing’s campaign against dissent.

Where he treads unfamiliar territory is in the business world.

Hong Kong, once a vibrant, multicultural business hub, has been cut off internationally during the pandemic as it overshadows Beijing’s strict zero-Covid strategy.

Its economy is struggling and there has been an exodus of talent.

Danny Lau, a small business association chairman, said Lee was not an ideal candidate but would reserve judgment.

“I hope he can take Hong Kong’s international competitiveness into account and not waste time enacting laws that are unhelpful to the city’s economy,” Lau told AFP.

But others say Lee’s appointment confirms that China is now putting Hong Kong’s political security ahead of business and livelihood issues.

“In the past, China could compromise for some economic benefits,” Charles Mok, a former pro-democracy lawmaker who now lives abroad, told AFP.

“But now Beijing seems to want its people to feel that the world is full of threats and that it’s only safe to hold tightly to the (Communist) Party.”

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