HONG KONG, May 8 (Reuters) – Hong Kong’s leader-in-waiting, John Lee, was endorsed for the city’s top job on Sunday by a committee stacked with pro-Beijing loyalists, as the financial hub attempts to relaunch itself after several years of political upheaval.
Lee, the sole candidate, received the votes of 1,416 members of a pro-Beijing election committee on Sunday morning, granting him the majority required to anoint him as Hong Kong’s next leader. Eight voted to “not support” him.
Speaking afterwards, Lee said it was his “historic mission” to lead a new chapter for Hong Kong, while pledging to unite the city and preserve Hong Kong’s international status as an open, and more competitive financial hub bridging China and the world.
Register now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com
Few of the city’s 7.4 million people have any say in choosing their leader, despite China’s promises to one day grant full democracy to the former British colony, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
Security was tight around the venue, with police preventing a small group of protesters from approaching.
“We believe we represent many Hong Kong people in expressing opposition to this China-style, single-candidate election,” said Chan Po-ying, a protester with the League of Social Democrats, holding up a banner demanding full democracy.
John Lee waves on stage after being elected as Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, in Hong Kong, China, May 8, 2022. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
Lee, a former Hong Kong secretary for security, has forcefully implemented China’s harsher regime under a national security law that has been used to arrest scores of democrats, disband civil society groups and shutter liberal media outlets, such as Apple Daily and Stand News.
Western governments, including the United States, say that freedoms and the rule of law have been undermined by the security legislation that was imposed by Beijing in 2020. read more
Lee, however, reiterated Beijing’s view that the law is necessary to restore stability after protracted pro-democracy protests in 2019, sidestepping questions on whether he would seek reconciliation with opposition democratic advocates and those who have been jailed.
“Safeguarding our country’s sovereignty, national security and development interests, and protecting Hong Kong from internal and external threats, and ensuring its stability will continue to be of paramount importance,” Lee told reporters.
Some critics say Lee’s attempts to relaunch Hong Kong internationally could be affected by sanctions imposed on him by the United States in 2020 over what Washington said was his role in “being involved in coercing, arresting, detaining, or imprisoning individuals” under the security law.
YouTube owner Alphabet Inc (GOOGL.O) has said it took down the Lee campaign’s YouTube account to comply with U.S. sanction laws.
Lee said his priority would be to boost housing supply in one of the world’s most expensive housing markets, and to bolster policy effectiveness with a “results orientated approach” in tackling this entrenched issue.
Register now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com
Reporting by James Pomfret and Hong Kong bureau; Editing by William Mallard and Michael Perry
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
HONG KONG — With each passing day, the boundary between Hong Kong and the rest of China fades faster.
The Chinese Communist Party is remaking this city, permeating its once vibrant, irreverent character with ever more overt signs of its authoritarian will. The very texture of daily life is under assault as Beijing molds Hong Kong into something more familiar, more docile.
Residents now swarm police hotlines with reports about disloyal neighbors or colleagues. Teachers have been told to imbue students with patriotic fervor through 48-volume book sets called “My Home Is in China.” Public libraries have removed dozens of books from circulation, including one about the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela.
when antigovernment protests erupted.
Now, armed with the expansive national security law it imposed on the city one year ago, Beijing is pushing to turn Hong Kong into another of its mainland megacities: economic engines where dissent is immediately smothered.
goose-step in the Chinese military fashion, replacing decades of British-style marching. City leaders regularly denounce “external elements” bent on undermining the country’s stability.
Senior officials in Hong Kong have assembled, right hands raised, to pledge fealty to the country, just as mainland bureaucrats are regularly called on to “biao tai,” Mandarin for “declaring your stance.”
also warn of termination or other vague consequences if violated. Mr. Li had heard some supervisors nagging his colleagues to fill out the form right away, he said, and employees competing to say how quickly they had complied.
“The rules that were to protect everyone — as employees and also as citizens — are being weakened,” Mr. Li said.
purge candidates it deemed disloyal, Beijing called the change “perfecting Hong Kong’s electoral system.” When Apple Daily, a major pro-democracy newspaper, was forced to close after the police arrested its top executives, the party said the publication had abused “so-called freedom of the press.” When dozens of opposition politicians organized an informal election primary, Chinese officials accused them of subversion and arrested them.
helped lead an operation that smuggled students and academics out of the mainland.
But Beijing is more sophisticated now than in 1989, Mr. Chan said. It had cowed Hong Kong even without sending in troops; that demanded respect.
end of an era.
The rush of mainland money has brought some new conditions.
declaring that those who do not go risk missing opportunities.
Growing up in Hong Kong, Toby Wong, 23, had never considered working on the mainland. Her mother came from the mainland decades earlier for work. Salaries there were considerably lower.
promising to subsidize nearly $1,300 of a $2,300 monthly wage — higher than that of many entry-level positions at home. A high-speed rail between the two cities meant she could return on weekends to see her mother, whom Ms. Wong must financially support.
Ms. Wong applied to two Chinese technology companies.
“This isn’t a political question,” she said. “It’s a practical question.”
many signals were missed.
Mapping Out China’s Post-Covid Path: Xi Jinping, China’s leader, is seeking to balance confidence and caution as his country strides ahead while other places continue to grapple with the pandemic.
A Challenge to U.S. Global Leadership: As President Biden predicts a struggle between democracies and their opponents, Beijing is eager to champion the other side.
‘Red Tourism’ Flourishes: New and improved attractions dedicated to the Communist Party’s history, or a sanitized version of it, are drawing crowds ahead of the party’s centennial.
The Hong Kong government has issued hundreds of pages of new curriculum guidelines designed to instill “affection for the Chinese people.” Geography classes must affirm China’s control over disputed areas of the South China Sea. Students as young as 6 will learn the offenses under the security law.
Lo Kit Ling, who teaches a high school civics course, is now careful to say only positive things about China in class. While she had always tried to offer multiple perspectives on any topic, she said, she worries that a critical view could be quoted out of context by a student or parent.
accused it of poisoning Hong Kong’s youth. The course had encouraged students to analyze China critically, teaching the country’s economic successes alongside topics such as the Tiananmen Square crackdown.
Officials have ordered the subject replaced with a truncated version that emphasizes the positive.
“It’s not teaching,” Ms. Lo said. “It’s just like a kind of brainwashing.” She will teach an elective on hospitality studies instead.
Schoolchildren are not the only ones being asked to watch for dissent. In November, the Hong Kong police opened a hotline for reporting suspected violations of the security law. An official recently applauded residents for leaving more than 100,000 messages in six months. This week, the police arrested a 37-year-old man and accused him of sedition, after receiving reports that stickers pasted on the gate of an apartment unit potentially violated the security law.
most effective tools of social control on the mainland. It is designed to deter people like Johnny Yui Siu Lau, a radio host in Hong Kong, from being quite so free in his criticisms of China.
Mr. Lau said a producer recently told him that a listener had reported him to the broadcast authority.
“It will be a competition or a struggle, how the Hong Kong people can protect the freedom of speech,” Mr. Lau said.
censor films deemed a danger to national security. Some officials have demanded that artwork by dissidents like Ai Weiwei be barred from museums.
Still, Hong Kong is not yet just another mainland metropolis. Residents have proved fiercely unwilling to relinquish freedom, and some have rushed to preserve totems of a discrete Hong Kong identity.
font of hope and pride amid a resurgence in interest in Canto-pop.
Last summer, Herbert Chow, who owns Chickeeduck, a children’s clothing chain, installed a seven-foot figurine of a protester — a woman wearing a gas mask and thrusting a protest flag — and other protest art in his stores.
But Mr. Chow, 57, has come under pressure from his landlords, several of whom have refused to renew his leases. There were 13 Chickeeduck stores in Hong Kong last year; now there are five. He said he was uncertain how long his city could keep resisting Beijing’s inroads.
“Fear — it can make you stronger, because you don’t want to live under fear,” he said. Or “it can kill your desire to fight.”
HONG KONG — Nearly a year ago, a 23-year-old ramen cook rode a motorcycle through a Hong Kong neighborhood, flying a large flag emblazoned with a popular antigovernment protest slogan. He collided into several riot police officers as they tried to stop him.
In a different era, the rider, Tong Ying-kit, might have been accused of dangerous driving and assaulting a police officer. Instead, the authorities arrested him last July under a draconian national security law Beijing had imposed on Hong Kong, only hours earlier, that took aim at dissent and other political activity challenging China’s rule.
Mr. Tong stood trial on Wednesday, the first among the more than 100 people in Hong Kong who have been arrested under the sweeping new rules. His case is a test of how the city’s vaunted judicial system, based on British common law principles of fairness and independence, will interpret and enforce Beijing’s far-reaching security law, in which political crimes are vaguely defined. China says the law is necessary to root out threats to Beijing’s sovereignty, but human rights activists, opposition leaders and scholars have said the law puts the city’s judicial independence in peril.
“The national security law constitutes one of the greatest threats to human rights and the rule of law in Hong Kong since the 1997 handover,” wrote Lydia Wong and Thomas Kellogg, scholars at Georgetown Law School, in a report in February.
arrested more than 50 opposition politicians — most of the leading figures in the city’s beleaguered pro-democracy camp — for organizing an informal election primary, accusing them of trying to overthrow the government.
They have arrested Jimmy Lai, a pugnacious media tycoon, and top editors at his stridently pro-democracy newspaper, Apple Daily, accusing them of conspiring to collude with foreign forces, the first time the law has been used to target news organizations.
As part of the same investigation, the police on Wednesday also arrested one of the paper’s journalists, Yeung Ching-kee, who wrote columns and editorials under the pen name Li Ping.
The authorities have also used the security law, to a lesser extent, against ordinary protesters such as Mr. Tong. Little is known about Mr. Tong, even now, one year after his arrest. A former lawmaker who has met him said he was a cook at a ramen restaurant who took part in pro-democracy protests in 2019 and helped provide first aid.
Even before Mr. Tong’s first day in court, his case has raised questions about whether the security law has empowered the authorities to chip away at the legal protections that had until now been typically granted to defendants.
charged under the law have been released on bail.
power to do so under the new law has been seen by critics as eroding the autonomy of the courts.
How the judges parse the specific charges against Mr. Tong will be scrutinized for whether the law is being used to curb genuine threats to China’s security, or merely to stifle voices critical of the ruling Communist Party.
Mr. Kellogg of Georgetown questioned whether Mr. Tong’s act of driving into the police officers qualified as terrorism. “It’s not clear to me that Tong was engaged in the sort of organized, planned and often large-scale political violence that is the hallmark of terror attacks,” he said.
The police obtained hundreds of videos of Mr. Tong’s ride, and about 20 of those were introduced into evidence at his trial. The prosecutors and defense attorneys are likely to argue over whether Mr. Tong intentionally drove into the police officers. Three officers were injured as they moved to stop him.
The terrorism charge, and the allegation of violence it carries, makes Mr. Tong’s case unusual. But his other offense, centering on political expression, has become commonplace.
The slogan emblazoned on his flag, “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Times,” was coined by a now-imprisoned activist, Edward Leung, in 2016. During the 2019 protests it became ubiquitous: a rallying cry that was chanted by students in schoolyards and protesters in street marches, emblazoned on banners and graffitied on walls that have since been painted over.
Mr. Tong’s lawyers are expected to argue, as have many protesters, that the phrase represents a desire to reclaim Hong Kong’s unique identity from the heavy-handed influence of Beijing. The government has said the slogan represents a call for independence, and thus violates the security law.
That a political slogan could constitute a criminal offense is still a new and unsettling idea in Hong Kong, where residents had for decades enjoyed the right to protest, freedoms largely unseen in mainland China.
“We must bear in mind the context. The words he had, we need to understand that during that period those words were quite commonly spoken and exhibited on many flags and banners in peaceful and even non-peaceful protests in Hong Kong,” said Eric Cheung, a law lecturer at the University of Hong Kong.
“The meaning of these words differ from person to person,” Mr. Cheung said. “You now say that using these words carry only that meaning which amount to intention to subvert the country, I think that is a debate.”
Even if Mr. Tong is not convicted of terrorism, he faces a separate charge of causing grievous bodily harm by dangerous driving, which carries a maximum penalty of seven years in prison.
As he awaited trial, Mr. Tong was sharing a cell with 10 men, according to Shiu Ka-chun, a former lawmaker who wrote on his social media page last year that he had been visiting him regularly. Mr. Shiu declined to comment about Mr. Tong. But in his social media posts, he wrote that Mr. Tong has been reading books on history, including a memoir by Lee Teng-hui, Taiwan’s first democratically elected president.
“For those comrades who are continuing to take a stand, he says wait and be patient,” Mr. Shiu wrote. “For those who have left Hong Kong, he looks upon that calmly and thinks, ‘Hong Kong is in your hearts, everywhere is Hong Kong.’”
HONG KONG — The glossy pamphlet from the police, delivered to newsrooms in Hong Kong, declared: “Know the Facts: Rumors and Lies Can Never Be Right.” With it was a letter addressed to editors, decrying the “wicked and slanderous attacks” against the police.
The 12-page magazine, distributed Wednesday to news outlets including The New York Times, described the police’s efforts to push back against misinformation. In one instance, the department countered rumors that officers had attended a banquet with gang members, saying the police had held their own private dinner. In another, it accused a local TV station of smearing the police in a parody show.
“Fake news is highly destructive,” read one graphic carrying the hashtag #youarewhatyousend.
Officials in Hong Kong are increasingly seizing on the label of “fake news,” a common authoritarian refrain. The city’s leader, Carrie Lam, said on Wednesday that the government was looking at laws to tackle “misinformation, hatred and lies.” The city’s police chief has said a fake-news law would help fight threats to national security.
The rhetoric is raising fears among activists that the label could be used as a new tool to muzzle dissent.
traditionally unfettered news media, known for coverage that has been critical of the establishment, has been under attack for months. The national security law, which calls for increased regulation of the media, has given the police and local officials powerful tools to constrain the press, but they are seeking more.
Mrs. Lam, the city’s chief executive, has said that the government was exploring legislation to curb fake news, which she said spread online during the protests and the pandemic.
“We have seen the internet, especially social media, flooded with doxxing, hateful and discriminatory remarks and fake news,” she said in remarks to lawmakers in February. Mrs. Lam has said that the proposed legislation had yet to be drafted because the government was still examining how such laws were handled elsewhere.
a 14-month prison sentence for protesting in 2019, and is accused of fraud and colluding with a foreign country.
The police have also bristled at coverage by RTHK, a government-funded public broadcaster with a tradition of independent coverage. The police complained about a parody program that portrayed officers as trash, with an actor portraying an officer in a garbage can.
The government has moved to rein the broadcaster in, replacing its top editor with a civil servant with no journalism experience in February. Under the new leadership the broadcaster has cut two radio programs known for sharp political commentary and added a new show hosted by Mrs. Lam, the city’s leader, discussing an electoral overhaul imposed by Beijing that critics say would cripple the opposition.
The broadcaster was also at the center of a closely watched court case last month in which a former freelance producer for RTHK was convicted of making false statementsto obtain public records for a report that was critical of the police. The journalist, Choy Yuk-ling, used the records for a documentary that examined how the police were slow to respond to an attack by a mob on protesters at a train station in 2019.
On Thursday, Ms. Choy’s documentary was honored in Hong Kong with a human rights award. “Chasing the smallest clues, interrogating the powerful without fear or favor,” wrote the judging panel, which called it an “investigative reporting classic.”
The broadcaster has said that it would not accept the award.
HONG KONG — Hong Kong’s police chief warned journalists they could be investigated for reporting “fake news.” A newspaper controlled by the Chinese government called for a ban on the city’s biggest pro-democracy news outlet. Masked men ransacked the offices of a publication critical of China’s Communist Party and smashed its presses.
Hong Kong’s reputation as a bastion of press freedom in Asia, home to journalism that is far more aggressive and independent than that found next door in mainland China, has been under sustained pressure for years. Now, as Beijing moves to stamp out dissent in the city, the news media is under direct assault. Traditional pressure tactics, such as advertising boycotts, have been eclipsed by the sort of bare-knuckles campaign that could leave prominent journalists silenced and their outlets transformed or closed.
Recent targets include the freewheeling pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily, whose founder was sentenced to 14 months in prison last week, and RTHK, a public broadcaster known for its deep investigations. On Thursday, one of the network’s prizewinning producers, Choy Yuk-ling,was found guilty of making false statementsto obtain public records for a report that was critical of the police. She was ordered to pay a fine of 6,000 Hong Kong dollars, about $775.
“We seem to have turned some sort of a corner fairly recently,” said Keith Richburg, director of the University of Hong Kong’s Journalism and Media Studies Center. “Self-censorship is still an issue and not knowing where the red lines are, but now we see what seems to be more of a frontal assault on the media in Hong Kong.”
imposed a tough national security law last year, criminalizing many forms of antigovernment speech. Then it made changes to Hong Kong’s election system, tightening the pro-Beijing establishment’s grip on power.
removed from office. The protest movement was silenced. Activists were jailed. And journalists found themselves in the government’s cross hairs.
On Thursday, a Hong Kong court found that Ms. Choy, a freelance producer, had broken the law when she used a public database of license plate records as part of an investigation into a July 2019 mob attack at a train station, in which 45 people were injured. Activists have accused the police of turning a blind eye to the violence.
She was arrested in November and charged with making false statements about why she had used the publicly accessible database.
Ms. Choy said her case showed how the authorities were trying to crack down on the news media and restrict access to information that was once publicly available.
“I realized since my arrest it’s not my individual issue,” she said in an interview. “It’s a bigger issue of press freedom in Hong Kong.”
Press freedom groups have denounced Ms. Choy’s arrest and described it as part of a campaign of harassment. The Committee to Protect Journalists called the government’s case an “absurdly disproportionate action that amounts to an assault on press freedom.”
The case against Ms. Choy is the latest move against RTHK, Hong Kong’s leading public radio and television network, which for years offered hard-hitting reports critical of the government. The outlet’s charter grants it editorial independence, but as a government entity, it has little protection from officials who want to see it brought under stricter control. Regina Ip, a pro-Beijing lawmaker, said last week that the government should consider closing it altogether.
Just months after the national security law was passed, the Hong Kong government called for RTHK to be more tightly supervised by government-appointed advisers.
The head of RTHK, a veteran reporter and editor, was replaced in February by a civil servant with no journalism experience. Under that new leader, Patrick Li, two radio programs known for their lively political commentary were suspended.
International news outlets have also come under pressure in Hong Kong. An editor for the Financial Times was forced to leave the city in 2018, in apparent retaliation for his role in hosting a talk by a pro-independence activist. The New York Times has moved a number of editors from Hong Kong to Seoul, in part because of problems with securing work permits.
Epoch Times, a newspaper linked to the Falun Gong spiritual movement, which is banned in mainland China, has dealt with even blunter attacks. On April 12, four men stormed the paper’s printing plant, smashing presses and computers. The newspaper said no one was injured and it was able to resume publication soon after.
raided by the police last year, and Mr. Lai faces charges related to the national security law for allegedly calling for American sanctions against Hong Kong. Under the law, crimes “of a grave nature,” an intentionally ambiguous term, carry sentences of up to life imprisonment.
The authorities have not been shy about threatening journalists. They have made their opinions known in the pages of state media, on the floor of the local legislature and from police headquarters.
State-controlled newspapers in Hong Kong have escalated their criticism of Apple Daily, calling for it to be regulated or even closed under the national security law.
“If Apple Daily is not removed, a gap still exists in Hong Kong’s national security,” Ta Kung Pao, a newspaper owned by Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong, said in a commentary last week.
Ms. Ip, the pro-establishment lawmaker, made clear to RTHK journalists what she believed their role was. In a legislative session last week, she said that a reporter for the outlet should be willing “to be a government mouthpiece.”
Chris Tang, Hong Kong’s police commissioner, last week warned that publications which produce “fake news” could face investigation, and he called for new laws to help regulate the media.
Nevertheless, many reporters say they will not be cowed by the government’s efforts to stifle their reporting.
“Some are disillusioned,” said Gladys Chiu, the chairwoman of the RTHK Program Staff Union. “But some feel there is still space to fight for.”