John Lee: Who is Hong Kong’s new hardline pro-Beijing leader?

Former security chief John Lee Ka-chiu has been elected as Hong Kong's next leader, in what is widely seen as a move by the Chinese government to tighten its grip on the city.

[Kampala, DAILYNEWS UG] Mr. John Lee Ka-chiu became one of the faces of the local government in 2019 when police clashed with protesters in the streets.

He is replacing Carrie Lam following the city’s chief executive election – in which he was the sole candidate.

Known for his pro-Beijing hardline views, he is not exactly well-liked, having garnered only 34.8 points out of 100 in a recent popularity survey.

But this matters little in Hong Kong where the public does not get to directly elect their leader – instead, Mr Lee has essentially been handpicked by Beijing.

The 64-year-old has been chosen by an election committee staffed mostly by Beijing loyalists, who voted in what was basically a rubber-stamp election.

Rising through the ranks
Unlike his predecessors, who either had ties with the business community or experience in the civil service, Lee’s background is in law enforcement.

Mr Lee joined the Hong Kong police force in 1977 at the age of 20. His early career focused on tackling criminal activity.

The father of two was both a Hong Kong resident and a British citizen, until he abandoned his UK citizenship shortly before he was appointed Under Secretary for Security in 2012.

When he was promoted to Secretary of Security under Carrie Lam’s administration, he played a pivotal role in pushing for the ill-fated extradition bill in 2019, which sparked the city’s worst political and social turmoil in decades.

When massive street protests against the bill erupted, he continued to back it. He became one of the faces of the local government in press conferences.

The protests, which began peacefully, at times descended into violent clashes between the police and some demonstrators.

The police, under Mr Lee’s watch as security chief, was criticised for their heavy use of water cannons, tear gas, rubber bullets and occasionally live ammunition in running battles with the protesters.

But Mr Lee was highly critical of the protests and fervently defended the Hong Kong police’s use of force, saying that the violent actions by some protesters amounted to “terrorism” and “extremism”.

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The background you need on Hong Kong’s protests
The US has since imposed sanctions on Mr Lee along with other officials for what they call the undermining of the city’s autonomy during the protests. It has led YouTube to block his campaign account.

Mr Lee has defended his position fiercely, saying he was only doing his duty “to safeguard security”.

In June last year, he was appointed Chief Secretary of Administration, the city’s second most powerful position. He held the post for less than a year, before resigning in April to run for the top job.

Security above all else
In June 2020, China passed the draconian national security law for Hong Kong, which made it easier to punish protesters and led to the arrest of more than 100 dissidents.

Mr Lee was appointed a member in a newly established committee that oversees national security matters. He said the law has helped Hong Kong to restore “stability from chaos”, and he will continue to eliminate “the ideology of Hong Kong independence, violence and extremism”.

Riot police officers pinning down a protester during the demonstration following the passing of the National Security Law that would tighten freedom of expression
Image caption,
Hong Kong’s protests turned violent, with police forces using tear gas, rubber bullets, water cannons and sometimes live ammunition
He has hinted his time in office will prioritise security issues, including the security legislation of Article 23, above all else.

This is an item in the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini constitution, which says the city should enact its own legislation to “prohibit any act of treason, secession, sedition, subversion” against Beijing.

What is the Basic Law and how does it work?
Since an aborted attempt in 2003, no Hong Kong leader has given it another try, but now Mr Lee is calling it “a top priority” for his upcoming administration.

He has also become the chairman of a separate committee with the power to decide who are eligible “patriots” to run in any election in Hong Kong.

Mr Lee has taken a hardline position on the media, saying last year that the Hong Kong government would look into creating legislation to address what he described as “fake news” and a national security issue.

Beijing’s ‘Pikachu’
Among his critics Mr Lee’s nickname is Pikachu, a character from the cartoon Pokémon.

It’s a play on his Chinese name Ka-Chiu but also references what some say is a pet-like loyalty to Beijing.


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