On Sunday, the head of the administration of Hong Kong – a special region of the PRC, whose autonomy has been largely curtailed in recent years – became City Security Chief John Lee. He was the only candidate and received over 99% of the electoral college vote.
“This shows that the authorities are stepping up their oppressive approach to Hong Kong. National security will now be the policy of the city’s administration,” commented voting results of human rights activist and former Hong Kong MP Nathan Low to CNN.
In Hong Kong, Li led the crackdown on anti-government protests and supported Beijing’s national security law, which severely curtailed Hong Kong’s autonomy.
John Lee served in the police force for over thirty years. In 2019, already as Hong Kong’s security minister, he actively promoted an extradition bill. The bill would allow detained Hong Kongers to be sent to mainland China. Local residents decided that in this way Beijing encroaches on the autonomy of Hong Kong. Massive protests took place in the city, the suppression of which was commanded by John Lee. The police used tear gas and rubber bullets. During the protests there were detained more than ten thousand people, 40 percent of them are students and schoolchildren. Despite the actions of the police, Lee praised his “bold officers” and denounced the protesters as “radicals spreading terror,” according to CNN.
In June 2020 Beijing introduced in Hong Kong, the national security law, the main executor of which was John Lee. The law, which prohibits separatism, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces, is used by the authorities to persecute opposition politicians, activists and journalists. Many of them were arrested or forced to flee abroad.
That same year, the US sanctioned John Lee and other pro-Beijing politicians for undermining the city’s autonomy and democratic processes, and for participating in mass arrests. Li called the sanctions “unreasonable” and “an act of intimidation.”
Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China and a global financial center. About 7.5 million people live on the island. In 1997, the UK handed over the island to China on the condition that Hong Kong would be granted broad autonomy until 2047. The National Security Act severely undermined the liberal freedoms promised to Hong Kong, including freedom of speech. At the end of 2021, Hong Kong got down from 80 to 148 in the World Press Freedom Index.