Final week, the man who led the crackdown stepped onto a stage to put out his imaginative and prescient for Hong Kong — this time not as the city’s safety chief, however its next chief.
“It actually alerts (authorities) are intensifying that heavy-handed method to Hong Kong, and placing the so-called nationwide safety as their coverage for governing the metropolis,” Regulation stated.
An increase years in the making
The forces behind Lee’s rise to the city’s high job might be traced again practically half a century.
Lee joined the Hong Kong police power as a 19-year-old recruit in 1977 as the metropolis — then a British colony — underwent an financial transformation into a trendy monetary middle.
He rose by the ranks and was promoted to chief superintendent in 1997 — the identical 12 months Britain handed the metropolis to China in a pomp-filled ceremony watched round the world.
Since that watershed 12 months, activists like Regulation say they’ve watched Hong Kong’s freedoms be squeezed ever tighter. All the whereas, Lee continued gaining prominence, changing into deputy commissioner, the second-highest place in the police power, by 2010.
Simply two years after that, he joined the city’s Safety Bureau as under-secretary. To some, the appointment of a high-ranking police officer to a key authorities workplace was a assertion of intent.
“We had been already actually nervous about that, as a result of that basically signaled a change in Hong Kong’s coverage, altering it in a seemingly extra suppressive means,” Regulation stated.
By 2016, when Regulation was elected into the legislature, Lee “was already notoriously tough to cope with” and appeared hostile to any journalists or opposition lawmakers who raised questions or challenges, Regulation stated.
Lee’s supporters have disputed this characterization, sustaining his time in the police power helped put together him for a public workplace.
At a temporary political rally on Friday, Lee, whose slogan is “We and us — a new chapter collectively,” harassed the significance of neighborhood and promised to “make Hong Kong a place of hope” as soon as appointed.
CNN has reached out to Lee’s marketing campaign crew for remark.
The 2019 protests
Lee’s rise continued when he was appointed safety chief in 2017 — the “starting of a altering development,” stated Joseph Cheng, a retired Hong Kong tutorial and pro-democracy activist now based mostly in New Zealand.
“Beijing appears to be emphasizing loyalty extra, or the functionality of implementing a onerous line — due to this fact, senior officers from the disciplinary forces seem to occupy a extra advantageous place,” Cheng stated.
It was beneath Lee’s tenure that the Safety Bureau launched the controversial extradition invoice that led to the protests in 2019.
Critics fearful Beijing might use the invoice to prosecute Hong Kong residents for political causes beneath China’s opaque authorized system.
With the Hong Kong authorities standing agency on the invoice regardless of public objections, the protests rapidly expanded into a broader pro-democracy, anti-government motion. Fears had been underpinned by widespread nervousness about Beijing’s rising affect and the perceived erosion of Hong Kong’s cherished semi-autonomous standing, which allowed it the freedoms of press, speech and meeting that had lengthy been central to its worldwide enchantment.
Withdrawing the invoice was simply one in all 5 widespread calls for by protesters; others included common suffrage and accountability from police, who confronted accusations of brutality they’ve denied.
At the peak of the disaster, protesters and police clashed practically each week, with demonstrators lobbing bricks and Molotov cocktails and officers responding with tear gasoline, rubber bullets, and at instances stay ammunition. The violence polarized the metropolis, cementing the breakdown in belief between the public and the authorities.
Lee has repeatedly defended the power’s actions, insisting critics have to “take into consideration the (previous occasions), in any other case it won’t be honest.”
“I’m pleased with the Hong Kong police power. They continue to be Asia’s most interesting … In comparison with what they do with legislation enforcement businesses abroad, I feel they’ve exercised restraint. They’ve minimized the hurt and accidents to everyone,” he stated in September 2019.
Lengthy arm of the nationwide safety legislation
Lee gained native prominence for his function in combating the protests — however his implementation of the nationwide safety legislation cemented his fame as a hardline enforcer and Beijing loyalist.
The safety legislation was promulgated by Beijing in June 2020, throughout a lull in the protests introduced by the Covid-19 pandemic. Described by the Hong Kong authorities at the time as “a essential step to ending chaos,” the legislation criminalizes secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with international forces — and permits for optimum sentences of life imprisonment.
Per week after the raid, Lee was promoted to chief secretary — the second-highest place in authorities — and the first time a safety official has taken the function.
Specialists say Lee’s suppression of the protests and help for nationwide safety is exactly why he now finds himself the city’s next chief.
“(This is) the reward for loyalty,” stated Cheng, the activist and former tutorial.
Supporters of the safety legislation insist it has helped set up stability in the wake of the violence and political unrest of 2019. “Individuals’s lives and property are protected, and so they can as soon as once more take pleasure in their reliable rights and freedoms,” a authorities spokesperson stated in April in response to a query on the legislation.
However Lee’s affiliation with the legislation has been met with rising scrutiny overseas. He was amongst practically a dozen folks sanctioned by the US in 2020 for undermining the city’s autonomy and democratic processes — which Lee has scoffed at, just lately calling the sanctions “unreasonable” and “acts of bullying.”
The nationwide safety legislation “has restored peace,” Lee advised the United Nations Human Rights Council in March, decrying the 2019 protests as “evil” and lauding “the improved electoral system.”
“No nation has a monopoly on the mannequin of democracy,” he added.
What this implies for Hong Kong
Lee has already made clear the form of authorities he’ll form: one with more and more shut ties to mainland China.
At the unveiling of his coverage manifesto on April 29, Lee emphasised the have to combine Hong Kong with different economically necessary Chinese language cities. There was no English translation offered, regardless of English being one in all Hong Kong’s two official languages — in placing distinction to most authorities occasions so far.
He additionally vowed to bolster safety laws and introduce “nationwide id” schooling. Each proposals have lengthy been controversial, with earlier makes an attempt to introduce laws foiled by protests and pushback — a lot to Beijing’s frustration.
Regardless of this, the outgoing Chief Government Lam continues to assert that Hong Kong’s media sphere is “as vibrant as ever,” although she warned final week that “media organizations will not be above the legislation … together with the nationwide safety legislation.”
Lee may even must navigate the Covid-19 pandemic, with persistence fraying amongst many in Hong Kong after greater than two years of stringent restrictions in accordance with China’s unbending zero-Covid coverage.
At his coverage manifesto occasion, Lee asserted that “in some unspecified time in the future (the virus) can be beneath management,” and that he would design measures to permit companies to function.
Cheng, the pro-democracy activist who moved to New Zealand, sees the future as being “the continuation of the onerous line of the previous two years.”
“There is no toleration of political opposition … there can be little or no tolerance of an unbiased media, and little or no tolerance for the operation of civil society organizations,” Cheng stated.
When requested by CNN about accusations of diminished political freedoms, a authorities spokesperson responded that the rights of Hong Kong residents are “protected in accordance with the legislation” — however that “many freedoms and rights will not be absolute, and might be restricted for causes together with safety of nationwide safety and public security.”
Disillusionment and emigration
Amongst former activists and pro-democracy supporters, there’s a sense of despair as Lee prepares to take workplace.
“It is positively not, by any means or any parameters, a democratic (course of),” stated Regulation, the former lawmaker. “It is actually simply an appointment. I do not actually name it an election.”
Lee has dodged questions on whether or not he was handpicked by the central Chinese language authorities, saying in April he welcomed anyone else who wished to run.
After the turmoil of the previous three years, even a new administration is unlikely to bridge the damaged relationship between the authorities and its folks, stated John Burns, emeritus professor at the College of Hong Kong.
“There is a enormous proportion of the inhabitants that is alienated and indignant,” he stated, pointing to mass emigration as “proof of alienation … of a sick society.”
Whereas Hong Kong’s harsh Covid restrictions are serving to drive this exodus, Lee’s critics say that so too is the crackdown on civil liberties he enforced.
Requested about this on April 29, Lee brushed it off. He claimed Hong Kong had all the time seen excessive ranges of mobility, and that its proximity to the mainland market would proceed to draw companies.
“We’re an inclusive metropolis,” he advised reporters. “Collectively, we begin a new chapter for Hong Kong.”