Western multinationals praise HK’s Lee
WELCOMING THE CHIEF This photo shows pages of two pro-Beijing newspapers in Hong Kong filled with ads from companies and business figures praising the selection of John Lee as the city’s new chief executive on Monday, May 9, 2022. AFP PHOTO
HONG KONG: Western multinationals and local tycoons ran newspaper ads on Monday congratulating John Lee on becoming Hong Kong’s next leader, following a selection process condemned by critics as undemocratic.
Lee, 64, a former security chief who oversaw a crackdown on Hong Kong’s democracy movement, was named the business center’s new chief executive on Sunday in a near-unanimous vote by a small committee of Beijing supporters.
He was the only candidate in the race to succeed outgoing leader Carrie Lam at a time when Hong Kong is being reshaped in the authoritarian image of China.
Ta Kung Pao and Wen Wei Po, two newspapers that report to the office that sets Beijing’s Hong Kong policy, were filled Monday with announcements from companies and business figures praising Lee’s selection.
The majority came from Chinese and Hong Kong companies, as well as community organizations.
The “big four” accounting firms – KPMG, Deloitte, EY and PwC – were among the Western multinationals running the ads, as were city flag carrier Cathay Pacific and conglomerates Swire and Jardine Matheson.
Messages have also come in from Hong Kong’s family tycoon-dominated property giants, including Sun Hung Kai and Henderson Land Development.
Western companies have found themselves in an increasingly precarious position in the former British colony, especially as geopolitical tensions have risen with China.
Many have embraced progressive political causes in Western markets, such as the anti-racist Black Lives Matter movement, same-sex equality and removing labor abuse supply chains.
But they generally avoid any criticism of China’s policy towards hotspots like Hong Kong, Xinjiang, Tibet and Taiwan.
Some companies, such as HSBC, Standard Chartered, Swire and Jardine Matheson, have publicly backed Beijing’s national security law, which was imposed on Hong Kong after 2019 democracy protests to curb dissent.
Can Hong Kong reopen?
Lee’s elevation, which is subject to US sanctions, puts a security official in Hong Kong’s top job for the first time after a tumultuous few years for a city battered by political unrest and pandemic controls economically. debilitating.
Despite the city’s mini-constitution promising universal suffrage, Hong Kong has never been a democracy, the source of years of protests since its handover to China in 1997.
After the 2019 rallies, Beijing responded with a crackdown and a new “patriots-only” political control system that rooted out the city’s once outspoken political opposition.
Lee faced no rivals and won 99% of the votes cast by the 1,461-person committee that chooses the town leader, or about 0.02% of the town’s population.
Beijing hailed the process as “a true demonstration of the democratic spirit”. But the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, countered that the selection process was a “violation of democratic principles and political pluralism”.
In response, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson in Hong Kong told Borrell and other European politicians like him to stop meddling in the affairs of the special administrative region.
According to the spokesperson, Lee’s election is significant, taking place in the 25th year since Hong Kong was handed back to China and as the “one country, two systems” policy enters a new era.
The election, the spokesperson said, also deepened the principle of “patriots administering Hong Kong,” while showing that it was fair, consistent with laws and regulations, and showed strong public support for Lee.
A former police officer, Lee pledged to strengthen Hong Kong’s national security and further integrate the city with the mainland.
He wants to restart the city’s economy and slowly reopen its pandemic-sealed borders at a time when rivals have moved on to living with the coronavirus.
But it’s unclear how he can do that, given that China has doubled down on its strict zero-Covid strategy.