Lee Promises Calmer Hong Kong

Hong Kong's next chief executive is a law-and-order candidate.

On May 8, Hong Kong will have its election; and former police officer John Lee is set to be picked as its next chief executive, to replace Carrie Lam who announced in early April that she would not be running for reelection. It comes at a time when the strict Covid-19 laws and worsening civil liberties are causing more foreign businesses to leave the former British colony.

Lee has pledged to bring safety and stability to the territory. At a press conference launching his candidacy, he said he wanted a “new symphony” for the city with him as the conductor. He added that he wanted to preserve the special administrative region’s status as an “international metropolis” and “establish a more favorable business environment.”

Lee lacks business experience. Instead, his resume underscores his law-and-order credentials. Prior to entering politics, he was with the Hong Kong police force for over 30 years, holding several senior positions. Then in 2012, he became undersecretary for security under Lam’s predecessor, CY Leung. Under Lam, he was promoted to secretary for security; then last year he entered the number two position in government as chief secretary for administration.

But as the only candidate, handpicked by Beijing, he is a controversial figure. In 2019, he led the crackdown on pro-democracy protests. He has also been a proponent of a controversial national security law that has made it easier to punish dissents and reduced Hong Kong’s autonomy. Lee and several other senior officials have been the subject of US sanctions since 2020 because of the law. In April, YouTube even took the rare move of removing Lee’s campaign channel.

Opinions in the business community are split, especially when it comes to the foreign businesses that have made Hong Kong their home. A recent survey by the European Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong shows nearly half of all its members are planning to leave Hong Kong—fully or in part—over the next 12 months, mainly because of strict Covid-19 restrictions. But the national security law has also had an impact. The American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, known as AmCham, reported that 36% of its members felt less welcome than a year ago. Looking ahead, a big part of Lee’s job will be to restore confidence.