Hong Kong leader says China patriots are now firmly in charge

HONG KONG (AP) – Hong Kong Chairwoman Carrie Lam said Monday that Chinese patriots are now firmly taking charge of the city after electing their new leader, who ran unopposed in a Beijing-controlled process from start to finish .

Lam’s comments came a day after a carefully scrutinized electoral committee voted overwhelmingly to allow John Lee, a tight-lipped security chief who has overseen a crackdown on Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement.

The crackdown led to Beijing’s imposition of a sweeping national security law and a reorganization of the regional legislature. Political opponents were subsequently jailed, dissenting voices silenced and organized opposition crushed.

Lam, who appeared with Lee, said such changes are necessary to restore order and stability to Asia’s financial hub.

“I want to thank the central government again for taking decisive action when Hong Kong faced unprecedented challenges,” said Lam, who is stepping down after a single five-year tenure as head of state.

“It formulated the National Security Law that helped Hong Kong turn from chaos to order and also improved Hong Kong’s electoral system so that we can achieve long-term peace and stability,” Lam said.

Lee won more than 99% of the votes cast by the 1,500 members of the Election Committee.

While China cited the need to restore order as a motivation for political change in Hong Kong, the requirement that only patriots – defined as those loyal to the ruling Communist Party – could hold office was a key issue.

Establishing the political system of “patriots who rule Hong Kong” is vital to Hong Kong’s future, Lam said.

Lee will replace Lam on July 1, taking over a city that for the past five years has seen the turbulent days of the 2019 pro-democracy protests, the ensuing crackdown and the recent coronavirus outbreak that overwhelmed Hong Kong’s healthcare system and prompted Beijing Send medics and build makeshift quarantine facilities.

The handover includes forming a new government, continuing disease control efforts and preparing for celebrations to mark the 25th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule.

Lee said he and Lam exchanged views on forming a new government during their meeting Monday morning, but gave no indication of a new direction for his government.

Lee said he wants to secure Hong Kong’s position as a financial hub while improving the quality of life for the 7.4 million residents of one of the world’s most expensive cities. But national security concerns are expected to trump all other issues, fueling speculation of a further deterioration in civil rights, freedom of expression and the rule of law.

Lam said her government will “provide all necessary assistance and support” to help with the handover and ensure Lee “will lead Hong Kong to greater heights over the next five years.”

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