Hail to Hong Kong in a New Era
Lee, widely regarded as an ‘iron man’ by Hongkongers, will set out on a historic mission, protecting social order and realizing the city’s transition from chaos to stability and prosperity.
The 2022 Hong Kong Chief Executive (CE) election was held on May 8 for the sixth term of the highest office of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR). John Lee Ka-chiu was elected as HKSAR’s six-term CE-designate, and is awaiting the Central Government’s official appointment. He will take over the city’s top job from incumbent Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, who has been in office since 2017.
The polling day is the first CE election since improved electoral system was adopted in Hong Kong last year to ensure “patriots governing Hong Kong.” Residents now have high hopes for the new CE and expect that he can get the Pearl of the Orient back on track and truly integrate it into China’s overall development.
It’s not often that one city’s election attracts international attention. Some Western politicians still hold that Hong Kong’s democratic system is under threat from Beijing. But do these politicians truly understand the city’s actual situation and the locals’ hopes and dreams?
Out with the old
It can be difficult for people who lack a deep understanding of Chinese history to fully grasp mainland views on Hong Kong. In 1842, following China’s defeat in the First Opium War (1839-42), the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) was forced to sign the Treaty of Nanking—the first of the unequal treaties China was forced to sign with invading Western powers—which ceded the island of Hong Kong to the United Kingdom as a treaty port. It further marked the beginning of China’s “century of humiliation” during which the Qing government surrendered many territorial and sovereignty rights under a series of unequal treaties. It was forced to sign the Convention of Peking in 1860, which ceded to the UK the part of Kowloon Peninsula south of present-day Boundary Street. In 1898, it was forced to sign another convention to lease what is today’s New Territories to the UK for 99 years. Thus, Britain occupied the entire area that is now known as Hong Kong.
The UK ruled over Hong Kong in typical colonial manner. A governor with complete law-making authority was directly appointed by the British Crown. Local Chinese under British rule were never eligible for the position and were, in fact, mostly excluded from the administrative structure altogether.
In December 1984, after years of negotiations, the Chinese and UK governments signed the Sino-British Joint Declaration in Beijing, which stated the People’s Republic would resume the exercise of sovereignty over Hong Kong on July 1, 1997. China’s Central Government has since implemented the “one country, two systems” policy, under which, the people of Hong Kong administer Hong Kong with a high degree of autonomy.
The Chinese people widely regard the return of Hong Kong as one of the most significant symbols of national rejuvenation. Upon sovereignty restoration in 1997, Tung Chee-Hwa became the first-ever Chinese CE to govern Hong Kong. Hongkongers could not only participate in HKSAR’s governance, but also in the management of China’s state affairs. Today, there are 36 Hong Kong deputies in the National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s highest organ of state power, and more than 200 Hong Kong members in the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CCPCC). The Central Government has made it clear on many occasions that Hong Kong will ultimately achieve the goal of universal suffrage for the CE and all members of the Legislative Council.
But due to loopholes and defects in the electoral system, external anti-China forces have been able to wreak havoc within Hong Kong’s administrative team by fostering agents, not only interfering with the prosperity and stability of local society, but also posing hidden dangers to China’s national security. In 2021, the NPC therefore decided to improve the HKSAR electoral system and introduced the principle of “patriots governing Hong Kong” on the basis of “the people of Hong Kong administer Hong Kong.”
Xia Baolong, Director of the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office, once pointed out that there are three main criteria to define “patriots”—those sincerely upholding the nation’s sovereignty, security and development interests; respecting and upholding the fundamental system of the country and the constitutional order of the HKSAR; and trying their best to safeguard Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability. In addition, Xia emphasized that the administrator “must not only love the country and Hong Kong, but also have the integrity and ability to govern.”
In with the new
Under Hong Kong’s new electoral system, running for CE requires a minimum of 188 nominations from the Election Committee. Within days of announcing his candidacy on April 9, Lee raked in 786 nominations, far exceeding the nomination threshold.
Born in 1957, Lee joined the Hong Kong Police in 1977 and served in public office for more than 45 years. During the turbulence over the amendment bill in 2019, he led the police force in safeguarding Hong Kong’s national security law, showing a strong sense of responsibility. After announcing his CE candidacy, he clearly outlined his future political goals. These include: solving citizen’s livelihood problems such as housing, which are of great concern to the public; seizing development opportunities; actively integrating into the development of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area; and creating better prospects for the upward mobility of young people.
The Greater Bay Area, with a population of over 86 million, has strong economic strength and innovative ability. Deeper integration into the area will expand Hong Kong’s market of 7 million people by more than 10 times, and will provide a broader stage for Hong Kong youth to better realize their own values. The city can also rely on its existing advantages to gradually solve its long-standing social problems such as the yawning gap between the rich and the poor, to achieve a higher quality of development.
Currently, the internal and external risks facing Hong Kong still exist. Against this backdrop, Lee, widely regarded as an “iron man” by Hongkongers, will set out on a historic mission, protecting social order and realizing the city’s transition from chaos to stability and prosperity. This is what both HKSAR and the Central Government expect from the new chief executive.