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Benedict Rogers

Hong Kong's thuggish new leader will complete police state

John Lee and his paymasters in Beijing will one day be brought to justice and held to account for their crimes
Published: April 12, 2022 03:54 AM GMT

Updated: April 12, 2022 04:03 AM GMT

Hong Kong's thuggish new leader will complete police state

Hong Kong's chief secretary John Lee speaks during a news conference in Hong Kong on April 6. The hardline former Hong Kong security chief, sanctioned by the US for his role in China's purge of dissent, declared his bid to become the city's next leader. (Photo: Lam Yik/AFP)

When John Lee is sworn in as its next chief executive, Hong Kong’s transition from “Asia’s World City” to “Asia’s Police State” will be complete.

Although trained as an engineer, Lee has in his career known nothing other than policing. A cop for 35 years before joining government, the positions he has held in the administration were as former chief executive C.Y. Leung’s undersecretary for security and the present incumbent Carrie Lam’s secretary for security.

He presided over police brutality in the Umbrella Movement in 2014 and in the 2019 protests, he enthusiastically backed Lam’s extradition bill and he championed Beijing’s national security law with zeal.

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Until his promotion to chief secretary — the number two to Lam — in June last year, his only experience of government was of locking people up, spraying them with teargas and pepper spray, condoning beatings and torture, covering up rape and permitting indiscriminate police brutality with impunity. He has no experience of finance, of the economy, healthcare policy, education, housing, infrastructure, transport, welfare, constitutional affairs or international relations. He is a thug, not a leader. And that’s exactly why Beijing picked him.

The mere fact that it looks like he will be chosen unopposed is itself emblematic of the totalitarian curtain that has fallen on Hong Kong. Elections for chief executive — equivalent to mayor or provincial governor — have, since the handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997 until now, at least had the charade of having multiple candidates, even if it was always known that Beijing would have its way. Now, not even Xi Jinping is pretending.

The absurd 1,500-strong election committee is stacked full of Chinese Communist Party flunkies, so even if a few brave alternative candidates ran, they were always only a fig leaf on the ballot vase.

He will, most likely, have a quiet life in the chief executive’s mansion, knowing that almost all of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy politicians, activists, lawyers and journalists are already safely in jail or in exile

But in 2022 Beijing has even done away with such niceties. They have not just cast the vase aside, they have smashed it to smithereens. They want Lee, he has agreed to run, and it appears he will run unopposed. So, what is the point of an election? As a Hong Konger told me some months ago, Hong Kong becomes ever more like Pyongyang by the day, just with better electricity.

For a man who likes to crack skulls and jail people, there is not a lot left for Lee to do. He will, most likely, have a quiet life in the chief executive’s mansion, knowing that almost all of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy politicians, activists, lawyers and journalists are already safely in jail or in exile.

Over the past two years, Hong Kong’s civil society has been destroyed, with more than 50 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) shut down. Almost all the pro-democracy and independent media outlets have been closed. Freedom of expression, assembly and association no longer exist. Academic freedom has been castrated. There is not too much for Lee left to do.

Perhaps there are two areas where he may bare his fists.

The first is religious freedom in Hong Kong, the one remaining liberty that, though already under pressure, just about still exists. The outgoing Carrie Lam made a pretense of being a Catholic. Despite being educated at a Jesuit school, Lee shows even more loyalty to Xi Jinping than to St. Ignatius Loyola, let alone Jesus Christ or God.

It would not surprise me if he parroted Beijing’s lines on religion and endorsed the Chinese Communist Party’s new translation of the Holy Bible, whenever it is published. The Church in Hong Kong — already under threat — must be prepared for a new crackdown, whenever it comes, and should prepare to take a stand.

Hong Kong has had a very bright past. For the next few years, it will plunge into an even darker future. But the time will come when Hong Kong — and the star of freedom — will rise again

The second area where I expect Lee to double down is on the draconian national security law. It is highly likely that he will fast-track even more repressive laws domestically on so-called “fake news,” which will silence what little remains of media freedom, and on Article 23, which will close off any remaining corners of dissent. I also think it is likely he will pursue the extraterritorial nature of the national security law with renewed vigor.

Three months after Carrie Lam took office as chief executive of Hong Kong in 2017, she barred me from the city that was once my home. Three months before she leaves office, she threatened to jail me.

I am in little doubt that John Lee, as Beijing’s goon in Hong Kong, will double down on the threats to me and Hong Kong Watch. As a former cop, he may try to invoke Interpol. As a former security secretary, he may try to activate extradition agreements. All I can say to him is: good luck. I will do everything possible to fight such actions, I will continue to speak out, and I will never be silenced.

Hong Kong has had a very bright past. For the next few years, it will plunge into an even darker future. But the time will come when Hong Kong — and the star of freedom — will rise again. And John Lee, while your thuggery may give you a few cozy years in the chief executive’s mansion, one day you — and your paymasters in Beijing — will be brought to justice and held to account for your crimes.

* Benedict Rogers is a human rights activist and writer. He is the co-founder and chief executive of Hong Kong Watch, senior analyst for East Asia at the international human rights organisation CSW, co-founder and deputy chair of the UK Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, a member of the advisory group of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC) and a board member of the Stop Uyghur Genocide Campaign. He is the author of six books, including three books about Myanmar, especially his latest, “Burma: A Nation at the Crossroads”. His faith journey is told in his book “From Burma to Rome: A Journey into the Catholic Church” (Gracewing, 2015). The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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