Hong Kong’s new Chief Secretary will focus on national security and is not expected to oversee policy areas in which he has no previous experience, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said of her recently appointed deputy.

John Lee was not expected to work on areas with which he was not familiar, such as poverty, youth, and ethnic minority issues, Lam told Commercial Radio on Sunday.

john lee july 1
John Lee. Photo: GovHK.

Lee, an ex-police officer who was formerly the secretary for security, was appointed as Hong Kong’s second-in-command ahead of the 24th anniversary of the city’s handover. Former police chief Chris Tang was promoted to fill Lee’s role as head of the Security Bureau.

Chief secretaries in the past have traditionally played a role in coordinating policy across various branches of government. Critics of the appointment cited Lee’s lack of experience in areas outside security.

“I have a good tacit understanding with him that we will play to our strengths,” Lam said. “I will continue to work on what the chief executive was more familiar with, [areas] that I have been watching over in past years.”

“But you [Lee] must help me deal with how to intensify the maintenance of national security, especially in the aspects of prevention and curbing.”

Carrie Lam
Chief Executive Carrie Lam. File photo: GovHK.

Lam said she needed someone who understands the importance of national security and can plan and push forward efforts outside of the security system, while at the same time being familiar with that system.

Police have arrested almost 120 people under a sweeping national security law imposed by Beijing in June 2020 and so far have charged about half of them. The law prescribes a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

Security law ‘relatively mild’

Lam described the law, which has helped trigger a wave of emigration, as relatively mild. She said people who left the city would come to appreciate Hong Kong’s advantages after a while, and many others were willing to settle in Hong Kong to develop their careers.

“Every time Hong Kong experiences massive changes, such as the transition during the handover, events that happened before or after the handover, there will be some Hongkongers who could not adapt, or feel anxious. That’s why they made a personal choice to emigrate and we fully respect that, there’s no big issues with it,” said Lam.

“But at the same time, if Hong Kong continues to be a successful international city, we will recruit talent from overseas or the mainland to Hong Kong.”

National security law
Photo: GovHK.

Asked how she would calm fears that the rule of law was being eroded, Lam said concerns cited by the public and foreign governments had proved ill-founded.

She said the rule of law was “still very firm” and Hong Kong’s laws were clearly-defined, including the national security law, which she described as “relatively mild by international standards.”

The chief executive said the city had a robust legal mechanism and an independent judiciary, but improvements had to be made in education to strengthen citizens’ understanding of the law and the need to abide by it.

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Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.