Lee Will Align Hong Kong More With The Mainland

John Lee seen after his election as chief executive of Hong Kong, May 8, 2022. Photo credit: Hong Kong government

JOHN LEE HAS been formally elected as Hong Kong’s chief executive. To no one’s surprise. Former chief executive Carrie Lam’s number two was the only candidate before an appointed electorate of 1,500 Beijing loyalists.

Lee has neither the civil service nor the business background of his predecessors in the job. The 64-year old former policeman has risen through the ranks of the police and security apparatus. His choice as leader of the city reflects Beijing’s growing prioritisation of stability and security that is far from limited to Hong Kong.

In 2019, Lee was instrumental as Lam’s Secretary of Security in promoting the ill-fated bill allowing extradition to China that sparked the street demonstrations. He defended heavy-handed police suppression of the protests, saying force was necessary against what he called terrorists and extremists.

He was also responsible for implementing the 2020 National Security Law that gave China sweeping powers over Hong Kong and brought its security regime more in line with the mainland.

How Lee applies the law as chief executive once he takes up the post on July 1 will likely define his term of office. Like all Chinese law, Hong Kong’s National Security Law is broad. Its scope is sketchily defined and retroactive. This allows administrative flexibility but also creates murkiness and uncertainty. Case law that might give clarity is limited.

A national security court allows for a parallel judicial system. That can leave the city’s civil and commercial courts operating independently on principles of British common law but still allows a means of political control over any case where China considers it has a national interest at stake.

The integrity of the legal system is vital for international business confidence in the city. However, the long-term risk is that the city evolves with a generation of lawyers not schooled in the principles of common law but viewing the legal system as an instrument of state administration, who become increasingly influential across the whole legal system.

Lee is likely to extend the Beijing model of national security law by introducing legislation that will give Hong Kong similar cybersecurity, data and privacy and anti-sanctions law to that now in force in the mainland.

These could be separate or part of an enacted Article 23 of the Basic Law, a stated goal for Lee.

The article provides for Hong Kong to write its own laws to prohibit the quartet of treason, secession, sedition and subversion that are already the target of the National Security Law (introduced under Article 18, not 23), as well as theft of state secrets (always a catch-all term in Chinese law) and prohibition of Hong Kong political organisations having foreign ties.

The two previous attempts to enact Article 23, in 2003 and 2019, led to intense street protests that are no longer permissible.

Beijing is convinced that business does not care about democracy in Hong Kong; it just wants stability. That may be true of the local business elite that Lee has taken onto an advisory council he has formed. However, the continuing slow drip of departures of international business executives, regardless of Hong Kong’s locational advantages, would tell a different story.

International businesses also have to worry about getting ensnared in Western sanctions against China as stances in Washington and Brussels harden towards Beijing.

For its part, Beijing may be less concerned by that than many in the West imagine. Increasingly, it sees Hong Kong less as a gateway through which international capital can enter China and more as one through which Chinese capital can make its way into the world.

That would be a fundamental change of purpose for Hong Kong, albeit not the first time the city has had to adapt to a new role in changed circumstances. More international companies, like HSBC, would come under stakeholder pressure to spin off their Hong Kong and China operations from the rest of their business.

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One response to “Lee Will Align Hong Kong More With The Mainland

  1. Pingback: Xi Jinping’s Visit Heralds More Stability In Hong Kong | China Bystander

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