Region’s top official chosen by the China, not by the people

If only persons recommended by China are allowed to run for office, there is no longer even the semblance of an election. Democracy in Hong Kong is about to disappear completely.

It is highly likely that John Lee, a former senior police official with strong credentials with China, will be elected as the chief executive of the Hong Kong government. As no other persons filed candidacies for the election, Lee is certain to garner all ballots from pro-Beijing members of the Election Committee at the May 8 election. He will take office in July.

The post of the chief executive can be held for two five-year terms, but incumbent Carrie Lam has decided not to run for reelection and has announced her retirement from politics. It is likely that Beijing questioned Lam’s ability to govern, as she allowed anti-government protests by pro-democracy groups and failed to prevent a surge in novel coronavirus infections, and refused to let her continue in office.

Since Hong Kong’s return to China in 1997, the position of chief executive has been held by businessmen and economic bureaucrats.

In this regard, Lee has a unique background as a former police officer who climbed the promotion ladder from a low rank. Since the introduction of the security law in 2020 to repress pro-democracy elements, Lee has led that repression, forcing a Hong Kong newspaper critical of Beijing to shut down.

In recognition of these “achievements,” Lee was a surprising pick in becoming the Hong Kong government’s No. 2 official in June of last year. The U.S. Treasury Department has designated Lee as subject to sanctions on the grounds that he infringed Hong Kong’s autonomy.

Beijing’s satellite office in Hong Kong is said to have expressed the view that Lee is the only candidate for the position and has made it difficult for any others to file candidacies. This may have been because Beijing valued Lee’s “loyalty” to China.

The Basic Law, serving as Hong Kong’s constitution, sets the ultimate goal of “universal suffrage” for the election of the chief executive and members of the Legislative Council. But last year, China introduced a mechanism under which only “patriots” who pledge allegiance to Beijing and the Hong Kong government can run for office and vote.

As a result, the pro-democracy faction was completely eliminated, and 99.9% of the Election Committee’s members who choose the chief executive are pro-Beijing. In the legislative elections last December, the pro-Beijing elements won 89 seats out of the 90 available.

In March, China announced that it would thoroughly implement “full jurisdictional control” over Hong Kong. This is a reflection of Beijing’s intention for full Chinafication of Hong Kong. It is a move to abuse the “one country, two systems” principle that was guaranteed in the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration for 50 years after the return of Hong Kong to China.

If the hard-line Lee is sworn in as chief executive, controls on foreign companies and the media are expected to be tightened, in addition to strengthening surveillance of residents.

Withdrawals of foreign companies from Hong Kong have already begun. As a countermeasure, China is taking steps to list companies from China on the Hong Kong stock market, but the decline of Hong Kong’s status as an international financial center may be inevitable.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 19, 2022)