Hong Kong Candidate To Secure 2nd Term, Defeating Former Security Chief

HONG KONG, China (AP) — John Lee was poised to become the next chief executive of Hong Kong on Sunday, after the former security chief was the sole candidate in a race that underscores Beijing’s tightening grip on the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.

Lee, who oversaw the implementation of a sweeping national security law in Hong Kong, was the only candidate to secure nominations from enough members of a pro-Beijing election committee that chooses the city’s leader. No other candidates were able to gather the required 188 nominations, effectively handing Lee an uncontested victory.

The election committee’s 1,500 members are mostly Beijing loyalists, and the lack of competitive candidates reflects the shrinking space for dissent in the former British colony, which was promised a high degree of autonomy when it was returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

The election caps a transformation of Hong Kong’s political system that began after pro-democracy protests in 2019. Beijing responded by cracking down on the city’s vibrant civil society and rewriting election laws to ensure that only “patriots” — those loyal to the ruling Communist Party — could hold office.

Lee, 64, a former career police officer who once headed the city’s security bureau, has pledged to maintain stability and security in Hong Kong. He has also said he will focus on improving the city’s economy and housing situation, which have been battered by the pandemic and political turmoil.

Critics say Lee, who has no experience in elective office, is a hardliner who will further erode Hong Kong’s freedoms. They point to his role in implementing the national security law, which has been used to prosecute pro-democracy activists and silence dissent.

The Hong Kong government has defended the new electoral system, saying it ensures that only “patriots” can govern the city.

“This is an important step forward in Hong Kong’s democratic development,” a government spokesperson said in a statement.

But pro-democracy activists say the election is a sham and that Lee’s victory will mark the end of Hong Kong’s autonomy.

“This is a dark day for Hong Kong,” said Joshua Wong, a prominent pro-democracy activist who is serving a jail sentence for his role in the 2019 protests. “The election has been rigged to ensure that only Beijing’s puppets can rule.”

The election comes at a time of heightened tensions between China and the West over Taiwan, the self-governing island that Beijing claims as its own territory. The United States and other Western countries have criticized China’s crackdown on Hong Kong and have warned that it could undermine the city’s international status as a financial hub.

China has dismissed such criticism, saying that it is interfering in its internal affairs.

“Hong Kong is a part of China, and its affairs are China’s internal affairs,” a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said in a statement.

The election of John Lee as Hong Kong’s next chief executive is a further sign of Beijing’s determination to tighten its control over the city, despite international criticism. It is unclear what the future holds for Hong Kong, but it is clear that the city’s autonomy is eroding and that Beijing is determined to ensure that only those loyal to the ruling Communist Party can hold power..

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