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Hong Kong leader-in-waiting John Lee officially anointed by Beijing

Hong Kong’s leader-in-waiting John Lee received the blessing of ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leader Xi Jinping at the weekend following the former security chief’s selection for the role in a one-horse poll earlier this month.

Xi received his letter of appointment in Beijing, and along with congratulations from Xi, who lauded the new system of “elections” that ensures only candidates with proven political loyalty to Beijing may stand.

Xi “praised Lee for his patriotism, love for Hong Kong, and daring to take responsibility,” the CCP-backed Global Times newspaper reported.

Xi said Hong Kong’s new electoral system had played a decisive role in ensuring “patriots” govern Hong Kong, the paper reported.

Current affairs commentator Johnny Lau said the rhetoric during Lee’s Beijing trip indicates that the CCP under Xi has no intention of relaxing its grip on Hong Kong.

“The suppression of Hong Kong has already had a negative impact on economic growth, people’s income and employment, international confidence and foreign investment,” Lau said.

‘Indistinguishable from other cities in China’

Political commentator Sang Pu said the national security law and the changes to Hong Kong’s electoral system were all Xi’s idea.

“The new electoral system is about hands-on governance [from Beijing] and patriots ruling Hong Kong,” Sang told RFA. “It is Xi Jinping’s alone, because Xi Jinping made the final decision.”

“The aim is to turn Hong Kong into a city that is indistinguishable from other cities in China, with its special characteristics and autonomy destroyed,” he said.

Lee takes office on July 1, the anniversary of the 1997 handover to Chinese rule, amid speculation that Xi will make a visit to Hong Kong to mark the occasion.

Analysts said the one-horse poll that returned Lee as successor to incumbent Carrie Lam wiped out any distinction between the city and the rest of mainland China, despite Beijing’s promises that Hong Kong would maintain its existing rights and freedoms and transition to fully democratic elections.

Lee, a former police officer who oversaw a violent crackdown on the 2019 protest movement, was “elected” by a Beijing-backed committee under new rules imposed on the city to ensure that only those loyal to the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) can hold public office.

Ninety-nine percent of the 1,500-strong committee voted for Lee, who was the only candidate on the slate.

‘National security education’

Lee has vowed to “start a new chapter” in Hong Kong, which has seen waves of mass, popular protest over the erosion of the city’s promised freedoms in recent years.

He has also denied that anyone has been detained or imprisoned for “speech crimes” under a draconian national security law imposed on the city by Beijing from July 1, 2020, despite dozens of arrests amid an ongoing crackdown on rights activists, peaceful protesters and opposition politicians.

The crackdown has seen several senior journalists, pro-democracy media magnate Jimmy Lai and 47 former lawmakers and democracy activists charged with offenses from “collusion with a foreign power” to “subversion.”

“National security education” — a CCP-style propaganda drive targeting all age-groups from kindergarten to university — is also mandatory under the law, while student unions and other civil society groups have disbanded, with some of their leaders arrested in recent months.

Eleven defendants including Cantopop singer Leslie Chong pleaded not guilty in a Hong Kong court on Monday to charges of “rioting” in connection with the siege by armed riot police of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University.

The defendants’ transit records and WhatsApp messages are being used to show that they went to nearby Yaumatei district during the siege in defiance of a police statement telling people to stay away.

Protesters converged on the district to distract riot police and support protesters holed up inside the university campus. A video clip shown in court showed around 250 Molotov cocktails being thrown at police during the standoff, the prosecution told the court.

Police later arrested more than 200 people at the scene, including Chong and his 10 co-defendants, who are aged 19-28 and include students, teachers and service sector workers.

The prosecution alleged that the defendants’ presence in the vicinity constituted the crime of “rioting.”

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.