Lee, 64, a former security chief who oversaw operations against the Hong Kong Democratic Movement, was anointed the new leader of the business center on Sunday in an almost unanimous vote by a small committee of allies in Beijing.
He was the only candidate in the race to take over from outgoing leader Carrie Lam at a time when Hong Kong is being reshaped into China’s dictatorial image.
Ta Kung Pao and Wen Wei Po, two newspapers that respond to Beijing’s Hong Kong policy-making office, were filled with ads on Monday from leading companies and businessmen praising Lee’s choice.
The majority were from Chinese and Hong Kong companies as well as NGOs.
The Big Four auditing firms – KPMG, Deloitte, EY and PwC – were among the western multinational publishers, such as the city of Cathay Pacific and the conglomerates Swire and Jardine Matheson.
Messages were also conveyed by the family of wealthy families in Hong Kong, including Sun Hung Kai and Henderson Land Development.
Western companies have found themselves in an increasingly precarious position in Hong Kong, especially as geopolitical tensions with China have increased.
Many have taken up progressive political issues in Western markets, such as the Black Lives Matter movement against racism, homosexual equality and freeing supply chains from labor abuse.
But they avoid any criticism of China’s policy toward hotspots such as Hong Kong, Xinjiang, Tibet and Taiwan.
Some companies such as HSBC, Standard Chartered, Swire and Jardine Matheson publicly supported Beijing’s national security laws, which were passed in Hong Kong after the 2019 Democratic protests to curb opposition.
– Can Hong Kong reopen? The rise of Lee, who is under US sanctions, puts Hong Kong’s top security official on board for the first time in a turbulent year for a city plagued by political unrest and an economically crippling pandemic.
Although the city’s small constitution has promised universal suffrage, Hong Kong has never been a democracy, a source of many years of protests since its 1997 extradition to China.
After the 2019 rallies, Beijing responded with a strong adherence to a new “only nationalists” political control system that eradicated the city’s once-declared political opposition.
Lee did not face rivals and received a 99 percent vote of 1,461 people elected by the city’s leaders – about 0.02 percent of the city’s residents.
Beijing hailed the process as a “real demonstration of the spirit of democracy”.
Josep Borrell, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, called the election “a violation of democratic principles and political pluralism”.
Lee, a former police officer, has vowed to strengthen Hong Kong’s national security and further integrate the city with the mainland.
He wants to reboot the city’s economy and slowly reopen the sealed border of a pandemic at a time when rivals have moved on to live with the coronary heart disease virus.
But it is unclear how he can do that, given that China has doubled its strict zero-covid policy.
On Monday morning, Lam met with his successor Lee and both delivered short speeches emphasizing that they would prepare for a systematic transition between their boards.
Lee, who takes over on July 1, was Lam’s chief of security and then its deputy.
Lee said his first stop would be for China’s top Hong Kong agencies – the Liaison Office, the National Security Committee, the Foreign Office and the Freedom Guard.
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