Hong Kong’s next Chief Executive will be Beijing loyalist John Lee

John Lee, a Beijing loyalist, has been picked to be the city’s next chief executive.

Bloomberg | Getty Images

John Lee, a Beijing loyalist, has been elected to be Hong Kong’s next chief executive.

Lee, the only candidate for Hong Kong’s top post, won more than 1,416 votes in Sunday’s election.

About 1,500 members of a largely pro-Beijing election committee cast their votes to select the new leader. Lee only needed a simple majority to win.

The 64-year-old Lee, who was formerly Hong Kong’s chief secretary, will begin his five-year term on July 1, replacing outgoing Chief Executive Carrie Lam.

Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China which returned to Chinese rule in 1997, when the U.K. handed over the former colony to Beijing. It is governed under the “one country, two systems” framework, and has limited election rights and a mostly separate legal and economic system.

At a press conference after his election, Lee was asked if his performance will be “challenged by the lack of electoral mandate and legitimacy in the eyes of some people.”

His reply was that his election was “run in accordance with the laws of Hong Kong.”

“Anybody, who according to the law is qualified, can take part and run for the election,” he added.

Pointing out that he garnered more than 1,400 votes, Lee said: “With that number of support, of course, it encourages me and gives me the strong confidence that my direction is agreed and shared by a lot of election committee members.”

In a note last week, analysts at Eurasia Group weighed in on Beijing’s choice of Lee as the next Hong Kong leader.

“The selection of Lee, a career police officer who played a leading role in the crackdown on the pro-democracy protests that began in 2019, indicates that Beijing’s top priority for Hong Kong is maintaining political security rather than preserving its role as a dynamic global hub,” they said.

“Lee’s appointment will reinforce Hong Kong’s shift from being a global financial and business center to playing a narrower role as a capital gateway for China,” Eurasia’s analysts said. “While the risks to political and financial stability are modest, Lee’s administration may be poorly equipped to respond to a major shock.”

Covid challenges

In line with China’s Covid-19 policy, Hong Kong has a so-called “dynamic zero” strategy for the virus and imposed strict measures in January in an attempt to blunt its spread. The city tightened restrictions further in February as new cases raged, but began easing slightly in late April.

The election was earlier postponed due to a surge in Covid cases in the Asian financial hub.

I make it a very clear point that I’m very conscious of the need to be accessible to the world. And also it is an important thing for Hong Kong to be able to resume normal travel with the mainland.

John Lee

Hong Kong’s incoming chief executive

At the press conference, Lee was also asked how he will show the international community that Hong Kong is open for business.

“Yes, we have challenges now because of the need to control Covid-19 and some of the measures are indeed creating inconvenience,” he acknowledged.

“I make it a very clear point that I’m very conscious of the need to be accessible to the world. And also it is an important thing for Hong Kong to be able to resume normal travel with the mainland.”

He said he will be talking to his counterparts in Beijing “to find out what are the conditions that will be required for normal travel to be resumed with the mainland.”

Lee also called on citizens to follow the advice and measures of the government, and said the city will seek to boost its vaccination rate. According to government statistics, more than 91% of the population above the age of 12 have received their first vaccine dose as of Saturday, and 85.2% have received their second dose.

Hong Kong’s outgoing chief executive Lam congratulated Lee on Sunday.

“I extend my sincere congratulations to Mr John Lee on his successful election,” she said in a press release. “The present-term government and I will ensure a seamless transition with the Chief Executive-elect. We will render all the support needed for the assumption of office by the new term of government.”