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Xi Hails 'New Atmosphere' in Hong Kong, Welcomes Next Leader


In this image taken from video, Hong Kong Chief Executive-elect John Lee, left, meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping, in Beijing, May 30, 2022.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has met with Hong Kong's next leader in Beijing, telling John Lee he has the full trust of the central government, state media said Monday.

Lee traveled to the capital on Saturday to receive Beijing's blessing as he prepares to take office in a month.

The 64-year-old former security chief, who oversaw a crackdown on Hong Kong's democracy movement, was chosen as the next chief executive by a small committee of Beijing loyalists in early May.

"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 official news agency Xinhua.

FILE - John Lee waves after becoming the city's new chief executive in Hong Kong, May 8, 2022.
FILE - John Lee waves after becoming the city's new chief executive in Hong Kong, May 8, 2022.

Lee will assume office on July 1, which is the 25th anniversary of Hong Kong's transfer from British to Chinese rule and the halfway point of its "One Country, Two Systems" political model.

Hong Kong has never been a democracy — the source of years of public frustration and protests — but China agreed that Hong Kong could maintain certain freedoms and autonomy for 50 years after its handover.

According to Xinhua, Xi said Lee has the "courage to take responsibility" and "had made contributions to safeguarding national security and Hong Kong's prosperity and stability."

"The central government fully affirms and fully trusts you," Xi added.

FILE - Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam speaks during a press conference at the government headquarters in Hong Kong, March 9, 2022.
FILE - Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam speaks during a press conference at the government headquarters in Hong Kong, March 9, 2022.

Lee was the sole candidate in the race to succeed outgoing leader Carrie Lam at a time when Hong Kong is being remoulded in China's authoritarian image.

According to a statement from the Hong Kong government, Lee said in the meeting that he was "deeply honoured by the appointment and fully aware of the great responsibility upon me."

He promised to "unite all sectors" and bring the government and people together to "strive for the well-being of Hong Kong and its people."

"Together, we will build Hong Kong into a city with long-term prosperity and a caring and inclusive society," he added.

Selection controversy

China imposed a national security law on Hong Kong that has clamped down on dissent after widespread and sometimes violent pro-democracy protests rocked the city in 2019.

The elevation of Lee, who is under U.S. sanctions, places a security official in Hong Kong's top job for the first time after a tumultuous few years for a city battered by the unrest and economically debilitating pandemic controls.

Lee spent 35 years in the police before jumping to the government in 2012, serving in the Security Bureau and then leading it before becoming the city's number two official last year.

FILE - Ballots are counted for the selection process of the city's chief executive in Hong Kong, May 8, 2022.
FILE - Ballots are counted for the selection process of the city's chief executive in Hong Kong, May 8, 2022.

He won the top role this month with more than 99 percent of votes from the 1,461-member committee.

Under the slogan "Starting a new chapter for Hong Kong together," Lee has vowed to bring in "result-oriented" governance, forge unity and reboot the city's economy.

Insiders told AFP at the time of Lee's selection that his unwavering commitment won China's confidence when other Hong Kong elites were seen as insufficiently loyal or competent.

This month countries including Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Britain and the United States joined the European Union in voicing alarm over the selection process for the new leader, which they called a "continued assault on political pluralism and fundamental freedoms."

But Beijing hailed the process as "a real demonstration of democratic spirit" and said it was the culmination of a strategy to ensure only "patriots" run Hong Kong.

Outgoing leader Lam is on track to leave office with record-low approval ratings.

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