John Lee is now Hong Kong’s number two. Police Chief Chris Tang replaces him as secretary of security. For Carrie Lam, they played a key role in the difficult past two years. Pro-democracy activists see the promotion as the start of a “police state.” Lee and Tang had Apple Daily, the independent newspaper that closed yesterday, in their sights.
Hong Kong (AsiaNews) – China’s central government has promoted the Hong Kong officials responsible for implementing its national security law.
Secretary for Security John Lee was appointed Chief Secretary, the de facto second most powerful post in Hong Kong’s administration after Chief Executive Carrie Lam.
Lee replaces Matthew Cheung and leaves his post to Chris Tang, the police chief. Raymond Siu will take Tang's place as the territory’s top cop.
According to state news agency Xinhua, the Chinese State Council gave the green light to the reshuffle on Wednesday, after receiving a request from Lam.
The latter stressed that the three promotions are due to the key role played by the three senior officials in dealing with the “unprecedented hardship” of the past two years.
Lam's reference is to the anti-government protests by the pro-democracy movement, which broke out in summer 2019, and the coronavirus pandemic.
According to Democratic Party chairman Lo Kin-hei, Lee is not fit for the post of chief secretary.
Interviewed by RTHK, he pointed out that Lam's new deputy has limited government experience, having spent most of his career in the police.
Kin-hei does not believe that the appointments signal a change in direction for the government. In his view, “everybody is expecting that there will be different sort of restrictions or other measures to regulate different sectors in society”.
For some pro-democracy activists, the new appointments are confirmation that the former British colony is increasingly taking the form of a “police state.”
The pro-democracy media mogul has been in prison since last December. The paper decided to close after the police arrested five of its executives and a columnist in recent days.
About HK$ 18 million (US$ 2.3 million) of the paper’s assets have also been frozen. Without them, and other frozen funds that belong to Lai, the paper could no longer pay its employees.
Lai's publishing empire had long been a thorn in the side of Hong Kong and Chinese authorities.
According to Reuters, John Lee in late May ordered local branches of Citibank and HSBC to halt transactions involving Lai's bank accounts on pain of jail for local bank executives.
A few days earlier, Chris Tang had accused Apple Daily of spreading “fake news“ to discredit the police. At the time, he had not ruled out taking action against the newspaper for violating the national security law.