China’s hardliner becomes Hong Kong’s leader

John Lee was named Hong Kong’s new leader, after a closed voting process in which he was the only candidate.

His appointment is widely seen as a move by the Chinese government to tighten its grip on the city, reports the BBC.

Known as a staunch supporter of Beijing, Lee oversaw the sometimes violent crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in 2019.

Lee replaces outgoing chief executive Carrie Lam, who has served since 2017.

Hong Kong’s leaders are selected by a close-knit committee of around 1,500 members, almost all of whom are pro-Beijing loyalists – although this time there was only one candidate up for election.

Lee, who was the city’s former chief secretary and second-highest civil servant, has always been tipped to be the preferred replacement for Ms Lam who earlier announced she would not seek a second term.

But although Lee has the backing of Beijing, he is deeply unpopular for his role in overseeing the crackdown on protesters during protests over a controversial extradition bill in 2019.

Lee continued to support the bill despite the unrest and came under heavy criticism for sanctioning police use of water cannons, rubber bullets, tear gas and sometimes live ammunition to disperse the protesters.

In 2020, he also supported the imposition of a controversial national security law that criminalized most forms of political protest and dissent and curtailed the city’s autonomy.

Lee argued that the law would help restore “stability to chaos.”

He was elevated to the rank of leader last year, a sign analysts say of Beijing’s intention to focus on security in Hong Kong.

His role in law enforcement led to U.S. sanctions against him and a dozen other officials, and a blocking of YouTube on his 2022 election campaign.

The League of Social Democrats – one of the only remaining pro-democracy groups – staged a three-person protest before the polls opened, chanting “power to the people, universal suffrage now”.

“This is what John Lee’s new chapter looks like, a narrowing of our civil liberties,” protester Vanessa Chan said as police watched.

“We know this action will have no effect, but we don’t want Hong Kong to remain completely silent,” she added.

Hong Kong was returned to China by Britain in 1997 under the agreement that rights such as freedom of assembly and freedom of speech would be guaranteed in the territory.

However, critics say those rights have been increasingly eroded as Hong Kong authorities crack down on dissent in the city. Lee’s unwavering support for Beijing’s policies has fueled fears that his leadership is ushering in an era of tighter Chinese surveillance of the semi-autonomous region.

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