Xi Jinping must be enjoying a quiet chuckle. China will almost certainly tighten its grip over the protectorate of Hong Kong with Sunday’s election of John Lee, a staunch supporter of the government in Beijing, as the chief executive, indeed the key office in the island territory. It was an election that appears to have proceeded from conclusion to the premise and was, therefore, decidedly undemocratic.
Lee was the lone candidate during the selection process that was reportedly tightly controlled by Beijing. Not to put too fine a point on it, it was, in the net, Beijing’s choice in Hong Kong, and did not even pretend to be a democratic exercise. At the age of 64, Lee will replace the somewhat unpopular Carrie Lam. It bears recall that it was under her control that fierce pro-democracy protests had roiled the city in 2019. China responded with a sweeping national security law that considerably curtailed the freedoms in Hong Kong.
The law, in a word, ran counter to the certitudes of the democratic engagement, historically an alien concept in the People’s Republic of China. Lee was Hong Kong’s security chief for four years before being appointed last year as Chief Secretary, the No.2 position in the government.
He was a key figure in cracking down on protests in 2019. More basically, he had assisted the government to choreograph the security law to decimate the Opposition. Sunday’s vote was cast by 1424 members of an election committee, all of whose members were vetted by the Hong Kong government. It was an election that was uniquely Hong Kong. Lee had no opponents, and the only choice was to vote in support of him or not vote at all.
The election was held in the aftermath of critical changes that were effected in Hong Kong’s electoral laws last year, indeed to ensure that only “patriots” deemed loyal to Beijing can hold office. The legislature was also reorganized to muffle the voice of the Opposition. The selection process is yet another step in the dismantling of the “one country, two systems principle”.
According to the official results, only eight people voted against Lee who waved and bowed to applauding voters after being declared the winner. “The day of the chief executive’s election is important to me,” he said. “But today is also Mother’s Day, Buddha’s birthday and also World Smile Day as designated by the Red Cross. We can all very happily welcome such a historical day.” That joy will not be shared by many in Hong Kong.
Lee, who will be sworn in as the chief executive on 1 July, has let it be known that he intends to give an impetus to the package of new laws on treason, secession, sedition and subversion ~ indeed the seeds of instability.
Hong Kong cries out for peace and stability, more urgently than the change of guard in the office of the chief executive, and at the behest of the People’s Republic of China. The dragon has tightened its grip on the territory.