John Lee: the former Hong Kong cop Beijing trusts
As a former beat cop who rose to become Hong Kong’s security chief, John Lee is the one person China’s leaders trust to run the city as their loyal lieutenant, analysts and insiders say.
Lee, 64, is expected to be anointed Hong Kong’s next chief executive by a small committee on Sunday, the culmination of a choreographed, Beijing-blessed race with no other candidates.
His elevation caps a remarkable rise for a man whose police career lifted him from a working-class family to the upper echelons of Hong Kong’s political establishment.
It also places a security official in the city’s top job for the first time, a man who played a key role in the suppression of huge democracy protests and Beijing’s subsequent political crackdown.
Insiders say Lee’s unwavering commitment to that role won China’s confidence at a time when other Hong Kong elite were seen as insufficiently loyal or competent.
“John Lee is the one that the central government knows the best, because he was in constant contact and interaction with the mainland,” pro-establishment lawmaker and prominent business figure Michael Tien told AFP.
Lai Tung-kwok, Hong Kong’s security minister before Lee took the role, put it another way.
“He is a man who has stood the test,” Lai told AFP. “If he really wants something done, he will try his best to tackle the obstacles.”
– ‘Platinum elevator’ –
Lee represents a sea-change from the four chief executives who have run Hong Kong since its 1997 return to Chinese rule — all former business figures or administrators from the civil service.
Lee spent 35 years in the police before jumping to the government in 2012, followed by a swift rise to the top via what local media have dubbed “a platinum elevator”.
Chien-yu Shih, an expert on Chinese security issues at Taiwan’s Institute for National Defense and Security Research, said he believed Beijing started paying attention to Lee after the 2019 democracy protests.
Those huge and sometimes violent rallies were a popular expression of anger by Hong Kong residents at their lack of say in how their city was run.