HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam on Monday said Chinese patriots are now firmly in charge of the city following the election of its new leader, who ran unopposed in a process controlled by Beijing from start to finish.
Lam’s comments came a day after a carefully vetted election committee voted overwhelmingly to approve John Lee, a hard-line security chief who oversaw a crackdown on Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement.
The crackdown led to the imposition by Beijing of a sweeping National Security Law and the reorganization of the regional legislature. Political opponents were subsequently jailed, dissenting voices silenced and the organized opposition quashed.
Appearing with Lee, Lam said such changes were necessary to restore order and stability in the Asian financial hub.
“I want to thank the central government again for taking resolute measures when Hong Kong faced unprecedented challenges,” said Lam, who is stepping away after a single five-year term as leader.
“It formulated the National Security Law, which helped Hong Kong transform from chaos to order, and also improved Hong Kong’s electoral system so that we can achieve long-term peace and stability,” Lam said.
Lee won more than 99% of the vote cast by the 1,500 members of the election committee.
While China cited the need to restore order as the motivation for political change in Hong Kong, the demand that only patriots — defined as those loyal to the ruling Communist Party — could hold office was a central theme.
The establishment of the political system of “patriots running Hong Kong” is vital for Hong Kong’s future, Lam said.
Lee will replace Lam on July 1 and take over a city that has in the past five years been through the tumultuous days of the 2019 pro-democracy protests, the ensuing crackdown and the recent coronavirus outbreak that overwhelmed Hong Kong’s health care system and prompted Beijing to send in medics and build temporary quarantine facilities.
The handover of power will incorporate the formation of a new government, continuation of epidemic control measures and preparations for the 25th anniversary celebration of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule.
Lee said he and Lam exchanged views on forming a new government during their Monday morning meeting, but gave no indication of any new direction for his administration.
Lee has said he wants to ensure Hong Kong’s position as a center for financial deal-making while improving quality of life for the 7.4 million citizens of one of the world’s most expensive cities. However, national security concerns are expected to trump all other issues, fueling speculation about a further deterioration of civil rights, free speech and the rule of law.
Lam said her government would “render all the necessary assistance and support” to assist with the handover, ensuring Lee “will lead Hong Kong to a greater height in the next five years.”