Zhiwu Chen, a professor of finance at the University of Hong Kong. “The extent of this anxiety shared by people is increasing very fast. It’s not good for social stability.”

surveillance apparatus, it is facing growing unease about the lack of safeguards to prevent the theft or misuse of personal data. Beijing’s move to censor news about one of the largest known breaches of a Chinese government computer system showed keen awareness of how security lapses can harm its credibility.

Immediately, officials tried to silence them. Censors shut down protesters’ messaging groups. The local authorities manipulated depositors’ mobile health codes — digital indicators that China uses to track coronavirus infections — to bar them from entering public spaces. But after the manipulation attracted widespread condemnation, local officials retreated, and protesters continued to gather, including on July 10.

Many of the demonstrators presented their demands as appeals, rather than challenges, to the Communist Party’s authority. Some waved Chinese flags. Others invoked Mr. Xi’s slogan of the “Chinese Dream” or carried a portrait of Mao Zedong. They were met with ferocity all the same. Men in plainclothes began hitting and kicking the protesters.

promised last week to repay the depositors — but only those who had put in less than 50,000 yuan, about $7,500, with details for the rest to be announced later. They also said they would not repay anyone who had used “additional channels” to obtain higher interest payments or those suspected of dealing with “illegal funds.”

Those stipulations were seemingly a nod to the police’s announcement about the suspected criminal gang. According to the police, the gang’s scheme included setting up illegal online platforms to solicit new customers.

Huang Lei, a lawyer in the eastern city of Hangzhou who has worked on fraud cases, said people who had unknowingly participated in an illegal scheme should still be entitled to repayment. But he acknowledged that, in reality, they might have little recourse.

“The other party is eager to characterize it as illegal — they’ve described it four or five different ways — because they don’t want to take responsibility,” he said of the authorities. Even if the depositors sued for repayment and won, he added, the bank might not have adequate assets to make them whole, and it was unclear if the state would make up the difference.

Indeed, the scandal has raised broader questions about who is accountable for the lost money, besides the suspected criminals.

the deteriorating economy has put more pressure on those same institutions. As a result, Professor Chen said, “I expect to see more rural banks having to face the same kind of problems as the Henan rural banks.”

There are most likely hidden debts spread across China’s financial sphere. The country’s seemingly unstoppable growth over the past few decades had encouraged speculative borrowing and lending behavior by everyone from online lenders to major real estate companies.

The government has sought to downplay concerns about a broader problem. China’s central bank said last week that 99 percent of China’s banking assets were “within the safe boundary.”

Still, it will now be up to the government to decide how to address the losses both in Henan and those yet to be revealed, said Michael Pettis, a professor of finance at Peking University. Officials could allow institutions to default, hurting lenders; they could squeeze workers; they could print more money, leading to inflation. In the end, Professor Pettis said, “somebody’s got to absorb the loss.”

For the Henan depositors, the fear is that it will be them.

Wang Xiaoping, a 39-year-old software industry employee from Hangzhou, said she had put about $95,000 into one of the rural banks. But all she had to show for it was an injured chin, from being attacked by a man wearing black at the Zhengzhou protest. She tried to report the assault to the police, but they told her to go to another district, she said.

“I told the police, I’m willing to die here,” she said in an interview on July 10. “This is my entire net worth, this is all of my paychecks put together, and it’s gone just like that.”

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Gas Prices Around the World Threaten Livelihoods and Stability

“NO ES SUFICIENTE” — It’s not enough. That was the message protest leaders in Ecuador delivered to the country’s president this past week after he said he would lower the price of both regular gas and diesel by 10 cents in response to riotous demonstrations over soaring fuel and food prices.

The fury and fear over energy prices that have exploded in Ecuador are playing out the world over. In the United States, average gasoline prices, which have jumped to $5 per gallon, are burdening consumers and forcing an excruciating political calculus on President Biden ahead of the midterm congressional elections this fall.

But in many places, the leap in fuel costs has been much more dramatic, and the ensuing misery much more acute.

Britain, it costs $125 to fill the tank of an average family-size car. Hungary is prohibiting motorists from buying more than 50 liters of gas a day at most service stations. Last Tuesday, police in Ghana fired tear gas and rubber bullets at demonstrators protesting against the economic hardship caused by gas price increases, inflation and a new tax on electronic payments.

largest exporter of oil and gas to global markets, and the retaliatory sanctions that followed have caused gas and oil prices to gallop with an astounding ferocity. The unfolding calamity comes on top of two years of upheaval caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, off-and-on shutdowns and supply chain snarls.

World Bank revised its economic forecast last month, estimating that global growth will slow even more than expected, to 2.9 percent this year, roughly half of what it was in 2021. The bank’s president, David Malpass, warned that “for many countries, recession will be hard to avoid.”

ratcheting down gas deliveries to several European countries.

Across the continent, countries are preparing blueprints for emergency rationing that involve caps on sales, reduced speed limits and lowered thermostats.

As is usually the case with crises, the poorest and most vulnerable will feel the harshest effects. The International Energy Agency warned last month that higher energy prices have meant an additional 90 million people in Asia and Africa do not have access to electricity.

Expensive energy radiates pain, contributing to high food prices, lowering standards of living and exposing millions to hunger. Steeper transportation costs increase the price of every item that is trucked, shipped or flown — whether it’s a shoe, cellphone, soccer ball or prescription drug.

“The simultaneous rise in energy and food prices is a double punch in the gut for the poor in practically every country,” said Eswar Prasad, an economist at Cornell University, “and could have devastating consequences in some corners of the world if it persists for an extended period.”

Group of 7 this past week discussed a price cap on exported Russian oil, a move that is intended to ease the burden of painful inflation on consumers and reduce the export revenue that President Vladimir V. Putin is using to wage war.

Price increases are everywhere. In Laos, gas is now more than $7 per gallon, according to GlobalPetrolPrices.com; in New Zealand, it’s more than $8; in Denmark, it’s more than $9; and in Hong Kong, it’s more than $10 for every gallon.

Leaders of three French energy companies have called for an “immediate, collective and massive” effort to reduce the country’s energy consumption, saying that the combination of shortages and spiking prices could threaten “social cohesion” next winter.

increased coal production to avoid power outages during a blistering heat wave in the northern and central parts of the country and a subsequent rise in demand for air conditioning.

Germany, coal plants that were slated for retirement are being refired to divert gas into storage supplies for the winter.

There is little relief in sight. “We will still see high and volatile energy prices in the years to come,” said Fatih Birol, the executive director of the International Energy Agency.

At this point, the only scenario in which fuel prices go down, Mr. Birol said, is a worldwide recession.

Reporting was contributed by José María León Cabrera from Ecuador, Lynsey Chutel from South Africa, Ben Ezeamalu from Nigeria, Jason Gutierrez from the Philippines, Oscar Lopez from Mexico and Ruth Maclean from Senegal.

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How China Is Policing the Future

The more than 1.4 billion people living in China are constantly watched. They are recorded by police cameras that are everywhere, on street corners and subway ceilings, in hotel lobbies and apartment buildings. Their phones are tracked, their purchases are monitored, and their online chats are censored.

Now, even their future is under surveillance.

The latest generation of technology digs through the vast amounts of data collected on their daily activities to find patterns and aberrations, promising to predict crimes or protests before they happen. They target potential troublemakers in the eyes of the Chinese government — not only those with a criminal past but also vulnerable groups, including ethnic minorities, migrant workers and those with a history of mental illness.

They can warn the police if a victim of a fraud tries to travel to Beijing to petition the government for payment or a drug user makes too many calls to the same number. They can signal officers each time a person with a history of mental illness gets near a school.

automating systemic discrimination and political repression.

to quell ethnic unrest in the western region of Xinjiang and enforce some of the world’s most severe coronavirus lockdowns. The space for dissent, always limited, is rapidly disappearing.

“Big data should be used as an engine to power the innovative development of public security work and a new growth point for nurturing combat capabilities,” Mr. Xi said in 2019 at a national public security work meeting.

ChinaFile, an online magazine published by the Asia Society, which has systematically gathered years of records on government websites. Another set, describing software bought by the authorities in the port city of Tianjin to stop petitioners from going to neighboring Beijing, was provided by IPVM, a surveillance industry publication.

China’s Ministry of Public Security did not respond to requests for comment faxed to its headquarters in Beijing and six local departments across the country.

The new approach to surveillance is partly based on data-driven policing software from the United States and Europe, technology that rights groups say has encoded racism into decisions like which neighborhoods are most heavily policed and which prisoners get parole. China takes it to the extreme, tapping nationwide reservoirs of data that allow the police to operate with opacity and impunity.

Megvii, an artificial intelligence start-up, told Chinese state media that the surveillance system could give the police a search engine for crime, analyzing huge amounts of video footage to intuit patterns and warn the authorities about suspicious behavior. He explained that if cameras detected a person spending too much time at a train station, the system could flag a possible pickpocket.

Hikvision, that aims to predict protests. The system collects data on legions of Chinese petitioners, a general term in China that describes people who try to file complaints about local officials with higher authorities.

It then scores petitioners on the likelihood that they will travel to Beijing. In the future, the data will be used to train machine-learning models, according to a procurement document.

Local officials want to prevent such trips to avoid political embarrassment or exposure of wrongdoing. And the central government doesn’t want groups of disgruntled citizens gathering in the capital.

A Hikvision representative declined to comment on the system.

Under Mr. Xi, official efforts to control petitioners have grown increasingly invasive. Zekun Wang, a 32-year-old member of a group that for years sought redress over a real estate fraud, said the authorities in 2017 had intercepted fellow petitioners in Shanghai before they could even buy tickets to Beijing. He suspected that the authorities were watching their communications on the social media app WeChat.

The Hikvision system in Tianjin, which is run in cooperation with the police in nearby Beijing and Hebei Province, is more sophisticated.

The platform analyzes individuals’ likelihood to petition based on their social and family relationships, past trips and personal situations, according to the procurement document. It helps the police create a profile of each, with fields for officers to describe the temperament of the protester, including “paranoid,” “meticulous” and “short tempered.”

Many people who petition do so over government mishandling of a tragic accident or neglect in the case — all of which goes into the algorithm. “Increase a person’s early-warning risk level if they have low social status or went through a major tragedy,” reads the procurement document.

When the police in Zhouning, a rural county in Fujian Province, bought a new set of 439 cameras in 2018, they listed coordinates where each would go. Some hung above intersections and others near schools, according to a procurement document.

Nine were installed outside the homes of people with something in common: mental illness.

While some software tries to use data to uncover new threats, a more common type is based on the preconceived notions of the police. In over a hundred procurement documents reviewed by The Times, the surveillance targeted blacklists of “key persons.”

These people, according to some of the procurement documents, included those with mental illness, convicted criminals, fugitives, drug users, petitioners, suspected terrorists, political agitators and threats to social stability. Other systems targeted migrant workers, idle youths (teenagers without school or a job), ethnic minorities, foreigners and those infected with H.I.V.

The authorities decide who goes on the lists, and there is often no process to notify people when they do. Once individuals are in a database, they are rarely removed, said experts, who worried that the new technologies reinforce disparities within China, imposing surveillance on the least fortunate parts of its population.

In many cases the software goes further than simply targeting a population, allowing the authorities to set up digital tripwires that indicate a possible threat. In one Megvii presentation detailing a rival product by Yitu, the system’s interface allowed the police to devise their own early warnings.

With a simple fill-in-the-blank menu, the police can base alarms on specific parameters, including where a blacklisted person appears, when the person moves around, whether he or she meets with other blacklisted people and the frequency of certain activities. The police could set the system to send a warning each time two people with a history of drug use check into the same hotel or when four people with a history of protest enter the same park.

Yitu did not respond to emailed requests for comment.

In 2020 in the city of Nanning, the police bought software that could look for “more than three key people checking into the same or nearby hotels” and “a drug user calling a new out-of-town number frequently,” according to a bidding document. In Yangshuo, a tourist town famous for its otherworldly karst mountains, the authorities bought a system to alert them if a foreigner without a work permit spent too much time hanging around foreign-language schools or bars, an apparent effort to catch people overstaying their visas or working illegally.

In Shanghai, one party-run publication described how the authorities used software to identify those who exceeded normal water and electricity use. The system would send a “digital whistle” to the police when it found suspicious consumption patterns.

The tactic was likely designed to detect migrant workers, who often live together in close quarters to save money. In some places, the police consider them an elusive, and often impoverished, group who can bring crime into communities.

The automated alerts don’t result in the same level of police response. Often, the police give priority to warnings that point to political problems, like protests or other threats to social stability, said Suzanne E. Scoggins, a professor at Clark University who studies China’s policing.

At times, the police have stated outright the need to profile people. “Through the application of big data, we paint a picture of people and give them labels with different attributes,” Li Wei, a researcher at China’s national police university, said in a 2016 speech. “For those who receive one or more types of labels, we infer their identities and behavior, and then carry out targeted pre-emptive security measures.”

Mr. Zhang first started petitioning the government for compensation over the torture of his family during the Cultural Revolution. He has since petitioned over what he says is police targeting of his family.

As China has built out its techno-authoritarian tools, he has had to use spy movie tactics to circumvent surveillance that, he said, has become “high tech and Nazified.”

When he traveled to Beijing in January from his village in Shandong Province, he turned off his phone and paid for transportation in cash to minimize his digital footprint. He bought train tickets to the wrong destination to foil police tracking. He hired private drivers to get around checkpoints where his identification card would set off an alarm.

The system in Tianjin has a special feature for people like him who have “a certain awareness of anti-reconnaissance” and regularly change vehicles to evade detection, according to the police procurement document.

Whether or not he triggered the system, Mr. Zhang has noticed a change. Whenever he turns off his phone, he said, officers show up at his house to check that he hasn’t left on a new trip to Beijing.

Credit…Zhang Yuqiao

Even if police systems cannot accurately predict behavior, the authorities may consider them successful because of the threat, said Noam Yuchtman, an economics professor at the London School of Economics who has studied the impact of surveillance in China.

“In a context where there isn’t real political accountability,” having a surveillance system that frequently sends police officers “can work pretty well” at discouraging unrest, he said.

Once the metrics are set and the warnings are triggered, police officers have little flexibility, centralizing control. They are evaluated for their responsiveness to automated alarms and effectiveness at preventing protests, according to experts and public police reports.

The technology has encoded power imbalances. Some bidding documents refer to a “red list” of people whom the surveillance system must ignore.

One national procurement document said the function was for “people who need privacy protection or V.I.P. protection.” Another, from Guangdong Province, got more specific, stipulating that the red list was for government officials.

Mr. Zhang expressed frustration at the ways technology had cut off those in political power from regular people.

“The authorities do not seriously solve problems but do whatever it takes to silence the people who raise the problems,” he said. “This is a big step backward for society.”

Mr. Zhang said that he still believed in the power of technology to do good, but that in the wrong hands it could be a “scourge and a shackle.”

“In the past if you left your home and took to the countryside, all roads led to Beijing,” he said. “Now, the entire country is a net.”

Isabelle Qian and Aaron Krolik contributed research and reporting. Production by Agnes Chang and Alexander Cardia.

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Russia’s Blockade of Ukraine Is ‘War Crime,’ Top E.U. Official Says

LONDON — The Russian blockade that has stopped Ukraine from exporting its vast storehouses of grain and other goods, threatening starvation in distant corners of the globe, is a “war crime,” the European Union’s top foreign policy official declared Monday.

The remarks by the official, Josep Borrell Fontelles, were among the strongest language from a Western leader in describing the Kremlin’s tactics to subjugate Ukraine nearly four months after it invaded, and with no end to the conflict in sight.

Before Russian forces began pounding Ukraine in February, it was a major exporter of grain, cooking oil and fertilizer. But the Black Sea blockade — along with Russia’s seizure of Ukrainian farmland and its destruction of agricultural infrastructure — has brought exports to a near standstill. The latest blow came Monday, when, Ukrainian regional authorities said, a Russian missile razed a food warehouse in Odesa, Ukraine’s biggest Black Sea port.

arriving in Luxembourg for a meeting of E.U. foreign ministers. “Millions of tons of wheat remain blocked in Ukraine while in the rest of the world, people are suffering hunger. This is a real war crime, so I cannot imagine that this will last much longer.”

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine made the same point in a remote address to the African Union on Monday. Moscow has deep ties to many African countries, which have been reluctant to criticize the invasion.

similar announcement on Sunday by Germany, Europe’s biggest economy. Denmark said it was also activating a plan to deal with looming shortages of gas that had been supplied by Russia.

The developments came as Russia, far from feeling the pain of lost fuel sales, found a savior in China, which reported on Monday that it was now the biggest buyer of Russian oil.

considering a suspension of fuel taxes to ease the strain on consumers.

NBC News, Dmitri S. Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesman, said that the two Americans, Alex Drueke, 39, and Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh, 27, were “soldiers of fortune” who had been engaged in shelling and firing on Russian forces and should be “held responsible for the crimes they have committed.”

The sanctions imposed on Russia also played a role on Monday in an escalating confrontation with Lithuania, a member of both the European Union and NATO.

The Russian authorities threatened Lithuania with retaliation if the Baltic country did not swiftly reverse its ban on the transportation of some goods to Kaliningrad, the Russian exclave between Lithuania and Poland. Citing instructions from the European Union, Lithuania’s railway on Friday said it was halting the movement of goods from Russia that have been sanctioned by the European bloc.

Mr. Peskov told reporters the situation was “more than serious.” He called the new restrictions “an element of a blockade” of the region and a “violation of everything.”

small town of Toshkivka in Luhansk Province, part of the eastern region known as Donbas. That is where Russian forces have concentrated much of their military power as part of a plan to seize the region after having failed to occupy other parts of the country, including Kyiv, the capital, and Kharkiv, the second-largest city, in northern Ukraine.

Reports over the weekend suggested that Russian forces had broken through the Ukrainian front line in Toshkivka, about 12 miles southeast of the metropolitan area of Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk. Those are the last major cities in Luhansk not to have fallen into Russian hands. As of Monday, it remained unclear whether Russia had made any further advance there.

But Ukrainian officials said Russian forces had intensified shelling in and around Kharkiv, weeks after the Ukrainians had pushed them back, suggesting that Moscow still had territorial ambitions beyond Donbas.

“We de-occupied this region,” Mr. Zelensky said in an address to a conference of international policy experts in Italy. “And they want to do it again.”

Matthew Mpoke Bigg reported from London, Andrew Higgins from Warsaw, Thomas Gibbons-Neff from Druzhkivka, Ukraine, and Rick Gladstone from New York. Reporting was contributed by Valerie Hopkins and Oleksandr Chubko from Kyiv; Dan Bilefsky from Montreal; Monika Pronczuk from Brussels; Austin Ramzy from Hong Kong; Stanley Reed from London; and Zach Montague from Rehoboth Beach, Del.

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Small players lose faith in crypto after sell-off

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WASHINGTON/MUMBAI, May 17 (Reuters) – Nofe Isah, a 25-year old based in Nigeria, has been investing in crypto since January. Last week, she lost all of her $5,000 in savings as cryptocurrency luna went into free fall.

Isah, a recently unemployed administrative officer, vowed she would never invest in crypto again.

“I can’t believe I fell for crypto,” she told Reuters by phone. “I’m just trying not to get myself depressed. Crypto has taken my money, fine. It shouldn’t take my head.”

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The crypto market, known for its wild price swings, slumped last week as investors yanked money from riskier assets amid worries over soaring inflation and rising interest rates.

Bitcoin, the world’s largest cryptocurrency, fell as low as $25,401 on Thursday, its lowest since Dec. 2020. It hit a record high of $69,000 in November.

Small tokens were hit too, with ether, the second-largest token, dropping more than 15% to its lowest since June. Luna – a digital coin widely hyped on social media and backed by institutional crypto investors – shed nearly all of its value.

Small traders such as Isah have flocked to cryptocurrencies in the hope of quick returns, despite warnings from regulators that the emerging assets can be high risk.

Platforms such as Robinhood, which has 23 million customers across a variety of assets, have helped spur retail investing, including in crypto. Around a quarter of Robinhood’s transaction-based revenues came from cryptocurrencies in the first quarter of this year, Robinhood said in its latest earnings statement.

Overall user numbers at crypto platforms have ballooned. Binance, the world’s biggest crypto exchange, had some 118 million clients last month, up from 43.4 million in the first quarter of last year.

But after last week’s turmoil, online forums were awash with tales of woe, as retail investors expressed anguish about their losses.

“I’m 49, big mortgage, 3 kids etc. My retirement party is on ice for the foreseeable future!”, a user with the handle Boring-Fun-3646 said on Reddit.

Another user with the handle AdventurousAdagio830 posted on Reddit: “It doesn’t seem real that I lost $180,000.”

‘DEATH SPIRAL’

Emblematic of crypto risks was the collapse last week of terraUSD, a stablecoin designed to keep a constant value via a complex algorithm that involved luna.

When the coins came under heavy selling pressure, the system broke down. TerraUSD – designed to keep a value of $1 – traded around 9 cents on Tuesday while luna plunged to near-zero, based on CoinGecko data. read more

Tejan Shrivastava, a 31-year old graphic designer from Mumbai, who has been investing in cryptocurrencies for the last year, had his $250 investment wiped out by luna’s collapse.

“It was stuck in a death spiral. All the money was gone in 15 minutes,” he told Reuters.

“I don’t even know if I’ll invest in crypto in the future. I have a crypto portfolio, but I am planning to liquidate it once it reaches break even.”

Luna’s fall wiped out most of its market value which had been above $40 billion as recently as early April, CoinGecko data shows.

Retail investors’ online frustration even spilled over into the real world.

Seoul police last week said they were seeking a suspect after an unidentified individual rang the doorbell of the apartment of Do Kwon, the founder of terraUSD, and ran away.

Police would investigate whether the suspect had invested in cryptocurrencies, a Seoul police officer told Reuters.

PATCHY REGULATION

Through its 13-year life, the crypto sector has been peppered by vertiginous climbs and sudden free falls. In November, for instance, bitcoin slumped by a fifth in just under two weeks after touching a record $69,000. Six months earlier, it had tumbled by almost 40% in just nine days.

Yet crypto’s latest crash – which pushed the sector’s combined value to $1.2 trillion, less than half of where it was last November – led to the crushing of luna, which on May 1 was the eighth-largest cryptocurrency by market capitalisation.

Cryptocurrencies are subject to patchy regulation across the world, with traders of bitcoin and the panapoly of smaller tokens typically unprotected against price slumps.

But it is difficult to gauge the scale of retail investors’ pain from the crypto plunge and the repercussions on future appetite given the opaque nature of the market.

In Britain more than 4% of adults – some 2.3 million people – own cryptocurrencies, data published last year by the UK financial watchdog showed.

Britain’s watchdog said understanding of crypto was falling compared with a year earlier, “suggesting that some crypto users may not fully understand what they are buying”.

Still, some small investors are keeping the faith.

Eloisa Marchesoni, based near Tulum in Mexico and investing with a crypto syndicate, said she would not give up.

“I am looking to buy the dip – we are all waiting for bitcoin to go down to $22,000, which is not something too probable but not something that’s ‘not probable at all’.”

Marchesoni is also hedging her crypto bets with physical assets — “cars because you can lease them, watches, real estate”.

Bitcoin was hovering around $30,000 on Tuesday, having lost more than 20% so far this month.

Regulators remain on alert. The British government said last month it will regulate stablecoins. read more

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is toughening its stance. Gary Gensler, SEC chair, said this week investors in cryptocurrencies needed more protections. read more

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Additional reporting by Alun John in Hong Kong and Soo-hyang Choi in Seoul; Writing by Carolyn Cohn, Elizabeth Howcroft and Tom Wilson in London. Editing by Jane Merriman

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Hong Kong’s next leader set to be endorsed by pro-Beijing elites

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.

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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.

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.

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Reporting by James Pomfret and Hong Kong bureau; Editing by William Mallard and Michael Perry

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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