Chinese President Xi Jinping has hailed a “new chapter” for the former British colony of Hong Kong, after a meeting with the territory’s incoming leader in Beijing.
Sitting far apart around a giant table, Xi praised former security chief and police officer John Lee for his “patriotism” and love of Hong Kong, saying he had the full trust of the government in Beijing.
Lee will become Hong Kong’s sixth chief executive on July 1, taking over from Carrie Lam who decided not to run for a second term in office.
“I believe that the administration of the new government will definitely bring forth a new atmosphere, and compose a new chapter in Hong Kong’s development,” Xi said, according to China’s state news agency Xinhua.
The 64-year-old Lee is becoming leader after mass protests in 2019 led Beijing to imposed a national security law that rights groups say have “decimated” the territory’s freedoms and all but obliterated its once thriving civil society. Severe COVID-19 restrictions have added to the sense of malaise.
July 1 also marks 25 years since Hong Kong was returned to China, which promised to preserve certain rights and freedoms under the so-called “one country, two systems” framework for at least 50 years.
Xi told Lee that Beijing has “never wavered” from its commitment to “one country, two systems”, the state-run Global Times reported.
Lee, who has been blacklisted by the United States, was chosen under a highly-selective electoral system in which he was the only candidate. He was named Lam’s deputy in 2021.
Countries including Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Britain and the United States this month joined the European Union in voicing alarm over the selection process, which they called a “continued assault on political pluralism and fundamental freedoms”.
Beijing said it was “a real demonstration of democratic spirit” and the culmination of a strategy to ensure only “patriots” run Hong Kong.
An Election Committee of just 1,500 people got to choose the chief executive. Hong Kong, which has never had full democracy, has a population of about 7.5 million people.