John Lee from Hong Kong “untested” in areas other than security: Counselor

Hong Kong’s new chief executive, John Lee, has focused on security throughout his career and has been largely untested in other areas, according to the chief executive of a consultancy firm.

“It’s a blank sheet of paper for most people in the community,” said David Dodwill of Strategic Access. “And that gives him resilience, I think.”

“But it does mean that how he’s going to run is probably more uncertain… than any leadership we’ve had in the past 25 years,” he told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia” on Monday.

Lee, who is loyal to Beijing and the only candidate for Hong Kong’s top office, won the majority of votes in Sunday’s election.

“He devoted his life to security issues, first in the police force and then as security minister here in Hong Kong. He’s largely untested and unknown, in this respect, in any other areas,” Dodwill said.

He added that the way Lee governs Hong Kong will depend on the team that gathers around him.

Michael Tian, ​​a Hong Kong lawmaker, who said he voted for Lee in Sunday’s election, told CNBC the next chief executive. A tight experience can be a good thing.

“The weakness that people notice in John Lee is that he’s only been working in security and he seems to have very little experience in any other areas of public governance,” he said in an interview with CNBC’s “Capital Connection” on Monday.

“On the other hand, it can be a force if he can turn it around [around] “And be open-minded by listening to others,” Tian said.

The Hong Kong government has not yet responded to CNBC’s request for comment.

Sunday vote

On Sunday, the Hong Kong government said 1,416 members of the largely pro-Beijing Election Commission voted for Lee. About 1,428 votes were cast in the secret ballot – giving me over 99% of the vote.

Lee will begin his five-year term on July 1, succeeding current CEO Carrie Lam.

Hong Kong is a special administration region in China governed by the “one country, two systems” framework. The city has limited electoral rights and its legal and economic system is largely separate from the mainland.

Last year, Hong Kong’s electoral system underwent major reforms, and Beijing said only so-called “patriots” should be allowed to run the city.

Calling the Hong Kong vote a ‘real election’ when compared to the Philippines election is a very stretchy thing, Dodwill said.

The Philippines held presidential elections on Monday with more than 67 million voters registered to participate. In contrast, the Hong Kong Election Commission has about 1,500 members who can participate in Sunday’s vote.

He said the people who voted were “carefully nominated as national supporters of the government”, and the result was “not surprising”.

Tian said the system in Hong Kong “is very similar to the one on the mainland” now, but cited the number of dissenting voices.

“If you gather suddenly loud dissenting voices, it means you’re not doing a good job,” he said.

Tian said that the eight votes against Li show that there are people who are still elements of him, adding that this is something Li should pay attention to.

Challenges ahead

Dodwill said the new leader would have to address the divisions that exist “in the heart of Hong Kong” that have not yet disappeared.

The past few years have been politically turbulent in Hong Kong, particularly in 2019 when pro-democracy protests over a now-withdrawn extradition bill turned violent.

China passed the Hong Kong National Security Law in 2020. The law aims to ban secession, undermining state power, terrorist activities and foreign interference, according to Lam. However, the US and UK said the legislation would undermine the city’s autonomy.

In Hong Kong, the feeling of being outside, connecting, shaking hands and listening to the crowd is important, especially when the race is from one person…

Michael Tian

Hong Kong legislator

“We have, structurally, a community that is very divided between those who feel very patriotic and those who are concerned about the loss of various institutional protections,” he said.

Dodwill also said previous Hong Kong leaders had failed to address the city’s “basic social issues” such as jobs and housing.

“I think that’s one of the reasons John Lee says he’s going to lead a results-oriented administration,” he said. “People will expect some very specific accomplishments very soon.”

Tian said Lee has to “go out and get close to the people and the crowd,” which Lam has failed to do in recent years.

“In Hong Kong, the feeling of being out, connected, shaking hands and listening to the crowd is important, especially when it’s a one-person race and the result is pretty much guaranteed,” Tian said.

In remarks to the media after Sunday’s vote, Lee said that last month he met with many people, including members of the public, and received tens of thousands of messages and suggestions.

“They deepened my understanding of the various problems our society faces and how people hope the government can do more,” he added.

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