Youth leader

Leader awaiting light on policy details in Hong Kong restart vow

A former senior police official slated to become Hong Kong’s new leader pledged on Saturday to boost the city’s international competitiveness, but revealed few concrete policy details on how this will be achieved.

John Lee, 64, is expected to be named the business center’s new chief executive by a committee of Beijing loyalists next month.

A hardline former security chief, he is currently the only person to have announced a leadership bid in what Hong Kong media have widely reported to be an unrivaled race at Beijing’s behest.

“Hong Kong must retain its character as an international metropolis,” Lee said at his first press conference since announcing his candidacy for the leadership.

“This will include ensuring that Hong Kong is an attractive place to work and live.”

Whoever takes over the leadership of Hong Kong will inherit a city whose reputation has been stained by huge democratic protests, a continued crackdown on political freedoms and more than two years of strict pandemic restrictions that have cut off residents and companies internationally.

Speaking behind a face mask at an online press conference, Lee laid out his vision for the future under the slogan “Starting a new chapter for Hong Kong together”.

But his stock talk stuck to aspirations and ideals without detailing concrete policies or goals.

“I’m a pragmatic man and I’ve always believed in being results-oriented,” Lee said.

“It will be a new symphony and I am the conductor of it.”

“Weak and Unprepared”

Lee became Hong Kong’s official number two after four decades in the security service, overseeing the police response to pro-democracy protests three years ago and its subsequent crackdown.

He is one of 11 Hong Kong and Chinese officials, including outgoing leader Carrie Lam, who have been sanctioned by the United States for their role in the crackdown.

Lee on Saturday justified his response to the 2019 protests by saying they involved “foreign interference, serious political interests” and attacks on the government.

Asked about his relative inexperience in the business sector, Lee said he would lean on his team and said his lack of connections meant he would have ‘no baggage’ – which would facilitate fairness .

On Hong Kong’s acute housing supply – a crisis that successive administrations have all sworn and failed to resolve – Lee said he would speed up the government’s response.

But he again gave no details on what his administration would do differently.

He spoke Cantonese, Mandarin and English throughout his appearance and only answered questions from local, not international media.

Baptist University political scientist Kenneth Chan said he felt Lee was “surprisingly weak and unprepared” despite a “carefully choreographed” press conference.

“He didn’t seem ready to offer new ideas – let alone hope – to struggling Hong Kongers,” Chan told AFP.
“I think listeners would have a hard time looking for the substance.”

“Patriotic Candidate”

Former Hong Kong leader CY Leung – previously named as a potential rival – endorsed Lee’s candidacy on Saturday, urging the public to unite behind him as the next leader.

Another potential contender, finance chief Paul Chan, earlier signaled he was out of the running, wishing Lee “all the best”.

Hong Kong’s next leader will be chosen on May 8 by a committee of about 1,500 elite figures vetted for their loyalty to Beijing, or about 0.02% of the city’s population.

Beijing’s top Hong Kong loyalists, along with several billionaire property and business moguls, threw their weight behind Lee this week.

Lee is an “experienced, courageous and patriotic candidate”, said Martin Lee, co-chairman of Hong Kong promoter Henderson Land.

But public response to Lee’s offer has been lukewarm, compared to the heated competition five years ago between three candidates.

Senior government officials have sought to play down criticism that this year’s leadership race is unlikely to field rivals against Lee.

“Just because only one person is running for (chief executive) doesn’t mean we have less choice,” Maria Tam, a former lawmaker who sits in Beijing’s top legislature, told a broadcast. radio earlier this week.