Hong Kong's next leader is a hardline former police officer who took on the city's protesters

1 week ago 74

Hong Kong (CNN)As nighttime fell, chaos erupted erstwhile crowds of protesters extracurricular Hong Kong's legislative gathering hurled bottles astatine police, who fired capsicum spray and swung batons, dragging immoderate radical to the ground.

It was a shocking descent into unit from what began arsenic a peaceful march, attended by much than a cardinal radical by immoderate estimates -- astir 1 successful 7 of the city's colonisation -- to reason a measure that would person allowed the extradition of transgression suspects to mainland China.

Last week, the antheral who led the crackdown stepped onto a signifier to laic retired his imaginativeness for Hong Kong -- this clip not arsenic the city's information chief, but its adjacent leader.

John Lee, who became the look of the nationalist information instrumentality and who oversaw the arrests of dozens of activists and raids connected newsrooms, is acceptable to regenerate outgoing Chief Executive Carrie Lam erstwhile she finishes her five-year term astatine the extremity of June.

In what the authorities has billed arsenic an "open, conscionable and honest" election, a largely government-appointed, pro-Beijing committee of 1,461 people volition name the adjacent person for the city's 7.5 cardinal residents connected Sunday. Lee is the lone idiosyncratic successful the running, successful opposition to erstwhile years that saw run-offs betwixt aggregate candidates.

For many, Lee's ascension speaks volumes astir the absorption Hong Kong -- erstwhile world-renowned for its robust press, flourishing civilian nine and antiauthoritarian aspirations -- is headed. Lee has already indicated that helium volition look to present further national information authorities and possibly a instrumentality against fake news.

To Nathan Law, a quality rights activistic and erstwhile section lawmaker now successful self-exile successful Britain, it seems "very obvious" wherefore Lee is tipped for the role.

"It truly signals (authorities) are intensifying that heavy-handed attack to Hong Kong, and putting the alleged nationalist information arsenic their argumentation for governing the city," Law said.

A emergence years successful the making

The forces down Lee's emergence to the city's apical occupation tin beryllium traced backmost astir fractional a century.

Lee joined the Hong Kong constabulary unit arsenic a 19-year-old enlistee successful 1977 arsenic the metropolis -- past a British colony -- underwent an economical translation into a modern fiscal center.

He rose done the ranks and was promoted to main superintendent successful 1997 -- the aforesaid twelvemonth Britain handed the metropolis to China successful a pomp-filled ceremonial watched astir the world.

Since that watershed year, activists similar Law accidental they person watched Hong Kong's freedoms beryllium squeezed ever tighter. All the while, Lee continued gaining prominence, becoming lawman commissioner, the second-highest presumption successful the constabulary force, by 2010.

Just 2 years aft that, helium joined the city's Security Bureau arsenic under-secretary. To some, the assignment of a high-ranking constabulary serviceman to a cardinal authorities bureau was a connection of intent.

"We were already truly tense astir that, due to the fact that that truly signaled a alteration successful Hong Kong's policy, changing it successful a seemingly much suppressive way," Law said.

By 2016, erstwhile Law was elected into the legislature, Lee "was already notoriously hard to woody with" and seemed hostile to immoderate journalists oregon absorption lawmakers who raised questions oregon challenges, Law said.

Lee's supporters person disputed this characterization, maintaining his clip successful the constabulary unit helped hole him for a nationalist office.

One pro-Beijing lawmaker, Ma Fung-kwok, said Lee had demonstrated "leadership skills" successful his handling of the protests and the pandemic, according to public broadcaster RTHK. Another, Jeffrey Lam, said Lee had "solved galore cases" successful the constabulary unit and tin cooperate with "other sectors successful the society."

At a little governmental rally connected Friday, Lee, whose slogan is "We and america -- a caller section together," stressed the value of assemblage and promised to "make Hong Kong a spot of hope" erstwhile appointed.

CNN has reached retired to Lee's run squad for comment.

The 2019 protests

Lee's emergence continued erstwhile helium was appointed information main successful 2017 -- the "beginning of a changing trend," said Joseph Cheng, a retired Hong Kong world and pro-democracy activistic present based successful New Zealand.

"Beijing seems to beryllium emphasizing loyalty more, oregon the capableness of implementing a hard enactment -- therefore, elder officials from the disciplinary forces look to inhabit a much advantageous position," Cheng said.

It was nether Lee's tenure that the Security Bureau introduced the arguable extradition measure that led to the protests successful 2019.

Critics disquieted Beijing could usage the measure to prosecute Hong Kong residents for governmental reasons nether China's opaque ineligible system.

Protesters march against a projected  extradition measure  connected  June 16, 2019 successful  Hong Kong.

With the Hong Kong authorities lasting steadfast connected the measure contempt nationalist objections, the protests rapidly expanded into a broader pro-democracy, anti-government movement. Fears were underpinned by wide anxiousness astir Beijing's increasing power and the perceived erosion of Hong Kong's cherished semi-autonomous status, which allowed it the freedoms of press, code and assembly that had agelong been cardinal to its planetary appeal.

Withdrawing the measure was conscionable 1 of 5 fashionable demands by protesters; others included cosmopolitan suffrage and accountability from police, who faced accusations of brutality they person denied.

At the tallness of the crisis, protesters and constabulary clashed astir each week, with demonstrators lobbing bricks and Molotov cocktails and officers responding with teardrop gas, rubber bullets, and astatine times unrecorded ammunition. The unit polarized the city, cementing the breakdown successful spot betwixt the nationalist and the authorities.

A protester throws backmost  a teardrop  state  canister fired by constabulary  successful  Hong Kong connected  October 1, 2019.

Through it all, Lee praised his officers arsenic "courageous" and condemned protesters arsenic "radicals" who were sowing "terror." When hundreds of protesters -- galore precocious schoolhouse students -- occupied a university for much than a week, constabulary laid siege to the field with Lee declaring: "We volition apprehension them all."

Lee has repeatedly defended the force's actions, insisting critics request to "think astir the (preceding events), different it volition not beryllium fair."

"I americium arrogant of the Hong Kong constabulary force. They stay Asia's finest ... Compared to what they bash with instrumentality enforcement agencies overseas, I deliberation they person exercised restraint. They person minimized the harm and injuries to everybody," helium said successful September 2019.

Long limb of the nationalist information law

Lee gained section prominence for his relation successful combating the protests -- but his implementation of the nationalist information instrumentality cemented his estimation arsenic a hardline enforcer and Beijing loyalist.

The information instrumentality was promulgated by Beijing successful June 2020, during a lull successful the protests brought by the Covid-19 pandemic. Described by the Hong Kong authorities astatine the clip arsenic "a important measurement to ending chaos," the instrumentality criminalizes secession, subversion, coercion and collusion with overseas forces -- and allows for maximum sentences of beingness imprisonment.

In an instant, Hong Kong's social and governmental scenery was transformed, and wrong months, galore of the city's starring pro-democracy figures were either successful jailhouse oregon exile.

Police officers raid the Apple Daily office  successful  Hong Kong connected  August 10, 2020.

Under the information law, Lee oversaw the mass apprehension of absorption figures successful 2021, accusing them of trying to "paralyze the Hong Kong government" by organizing a pro-democracy superior election.

He ordered a constabulary raid connected Hong Kong's biggest pro-democracy newspaper, Apple Daily, which was subsequently forced to unopen aft its assets were frozen and respective employees arrested nether the information law.

A week aft the raid, Lee was promoted to main caput -- the second-highest presumption successful authorities -- and the archetypal clip a information authoritative has taken the role.

Experts accidental Lee's suppression of the protests and enactment for nationalist information is precisely wherefore helium present finds himself the city's adjacent leader.

"(This is) the reward for loyalty," said Cheng, the activistic and erstwhile academic.

One twelvemonth  aft  Hong Kong's nationalist  information    law, residents consciousness   Beijing's tightening grip

Supporters of the information instrumentality importune it has helped found stableness successful the aftermath of the unit and governmental unrest of 2019. "People's lives and spot are protected, and they tin erstwhile again bask their morganatic rights and freedoms," a authorities spokesperson said successful April successful effect to a question connected the law.

But Lee's relation with the instrumentality has been met with expanding scrutiny abroad. He was among astir a twelve radical sanctioned by the US successful 2020 for undermining the city's autonomy and antiauthoritarian processes -- which Lee has scoffed at, precocious calling the sanctions "unreasonable" and "acts of bullying."

He has besides continued to support the law, arsenic good arsenic caller electoral changes that placed him astatine the caput of a vetting committee to surface each candidates, ensuring lone "patriots" would beryllium allowed to tally for office.

The nationalist information instrumentality "has restored peace," Lee told the United Nations Human Rights Council successful March, decrying the 2019 protests arsenic "evil" and lauding "the improved electoral system."

"No state has a monopoly connected the exemplary of democracy," helium added.

What this means for Hong Kong

Lee has already made wide the benignant of authorities helium volition shape: 1 with progressively adjacent ties to mainland China.

At the unveiling of his argumentation manifesto connected April 29, Lee emphasized the request to integrate Hong Kong with different economically important Chinese cities. There was nary English translation provided, contempt English being 1 of Hong Kong's 2 authoritative languages -- successful striking opposition to astir authorities events to date.

He besides vowed to bolster information authorities and present "national identity" education. Both proposals person agelong been controversial, with erstwhile attempts to present authorities foiled by protests and pushback -- overmuch to Beijing's frustration.

Lee has besides previously voiced support for a "fake news" instrumentality -- prompting fears the reins volition lone tighten connected what remains of the city's media and civilian groups. Last week, the city's press state ranking plunged to a grounds debased of 148 among 180 locations, compared to its ranking of 73rd successful 2019.

Hong Kong's escaped  property   is being 'gutted.' Here's what the satellite   loses

Despite this, the outgoing Chief Executive Lam continues to assertion that Hong Kong's media sphere is "as vibrant arsenic ever," though she warned past week that "media organizations are not supra the instrumentality ... including the nationalist information law."

Lee volition besides person to navigate the Covid-19 pandemic, with patience fraying among galore successful Hong Kong aft much than 2 years of stringent restrictions successful accordance with China's unbending zero-Covid policy.

At his argumentation manifesto event, Lee asserted that "at immoderate constituent (the virus) volition beryllium nether control," and that helium would plan measures to let businesses to operate.

Cheng, the pro-democracy activistic who moved to New Zealand, sees the aboriginal arsenic being "the continuation of the hard enactment of the past 2 years."

"There is nary toleration of governmental absorption ... determination volition beryllium precise small tolerance of an autarkic media, and precise small tolerance for the cognition of civilian nine organizations," Cheng said.

When asked by CNN astir accusations of diminished governmental freedoms, a authorities spokesperson responded that the rights of Hong Kong residents are "protected successful accordance with the law" -- but that "many freedoms and rights are not absolute, and tin beryllium restricted for reasons including extortion of nationalist information and nationalist safety."

Disillusionment and emigration

Among erstwhile activists and pro-democracy supporters, there's a consciousness of despair arsenic Lee prepares to instrumentality office.

The circumstances of his selection, with Lee arsenic the sole contender showered with praise by pro-Beijing lawmakers, chopped peculiarly heavy for galore of those who erstwhile marched to request greater antiauthoritarian freedoms.

"It's decidedly not, by immoderate means oregon immoderate parameters, a antiauthoritarian (process)," said Law, the erstwhile lawmaker. "It's truly conscionable an appointment. I don't truly telephone it an election."

Lee has dodged questions astir whether helium was handpicked by the cardinal Chinese government, saying successful April helium welcomed anybody other who wished to run.

He has since received endorsements from starring constitution figures, including 2 erstwhile constabulary commissioners and 2 erstwhile information chiefs, RTHK reported.

Why Britain's anti-immigration politicians are opening   the doors to thousands of Hong Kongers

After the turmoil of the past 3 years, adjacent a caller medication is improbable to span the breached narration betwixt the authorities and its people, said John Burns, emeritus prof astatine the University of Hong Kong.

"There is simply a immense percent of the colonisation that is alienated and angry," helium said, pointing to wide emigration arsenic "evidence of alienation ... of a sick society."

Locals, expatriates and foreign companies are leaving the metropolis successful droves. More than 100,000 Hong Kongers applied for a caller visa offering a way to citizenship successful Britain past year; and successful February and March unsocial this year, much than 180,000 radical near the metropolis portion lone astir 39,000 entered, according to migration data.

While Hong Kong's harsh Covid restrictions are helping thrust this exodus, Lee's critics accidental that truthful excessively is the crackdown connected civilian liberties helium enforced.

Asked astir this connected April 29, Lee brushed it off. He claimed Hong Kong had ever seen precocious levels of mobility, and that its proximity to the mainland marketplace would proceed to pull businesses.

    "We are an inclusive city," helium told reporters. "Together, we commencement a caller section for Hong Kong."

    Read Entire Article