Hong Kong’s small-circle leadership race made headlines not only in the city but around the world. Local newspapers focused on the large proportion of votes received by former chief secretary and security chief John Lee, while overseas outlets emphasised Beijing’s role in his ascension to the city’s top post.

John Lee election
Chief Executive-elect John Lee. Photo: Almond Li/HKFP.

HKFP rounded up how local and international media outlets covered the chief executive election, after 99 per cent of a government-vetted committee selected Lee to lead the city.

Ming Pao

On Sunday, the online version of Ming Pao ran the headline “Chief executive election: John Lee elected with 1,416 votes, getting 99% of votes, 8 opposing votes.”

Ming Pao John Lee
Photo: Ming Pao, via screenshot.

The local newspaper, often described as centrist, also calculated that 33 Election Committee members did not vote in the race on Sunday.

Ming Pao
Ming Pao on Monday. Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

On Monday, its print edition led with: “Lee’s election vow: Safeguard the rule of law, abide by bottom line thinking.”

The paper said that Chinese leader Xi Jinping said during a visit to Hong Kong on July 1, 2017, that there are three “bottom lines” that cannot be crossed under “One Country, Two Systems,” including endangering national security, challenging Beijing’s authority and the Hong Kong Basic Law, and using Hong Kong for infiltration and subversion activities.

When asked by reporters what the phrase meant on Monday, Lee said that it referred to “preparing for the worst as best as we can.”


Following the forced closures of pro-democracy outlets Apple Daily and Stand News, as well as the shuttering of Citizen News, InMedia has became one of the few remaining independent Chinese outlets in Hong Kong.

InMedia John Lee
Photo: InMedia, via screenshot.

On Sunday, the outlet went with the headline “One-person chief executive race: John Lee elected with 1,416 votes, inviting wife on stage to share ‘historical moment’.”

Ta Kung Pao

The online version of Ta Kung Pao, one of the city’s Beijing-controlled newspapers, published the headline “John Lee elected with high votes as Hong Kong SAR’s sixth chief executive” for its coverage of the small-circle leadership race on Sunday.

Ta Kung Pao
Photo: Ta Kung Pao, via screenshot.

The next day, the print edition of the Ta Kung Pao devoted almost the entire front page to a photo of Lee and his wife, Janet Lam, after the election results were announced. The headline read “John Lee elected with a high number of votes, to lead Hong Kong to start a new chapter,” the second line a reference to his campaign slogan.

Ta Kung Pao
Ta Kung Pao on Monday. Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

Around a dozen locally headquartered business groups, including Sun Hung Kai Properties, Jardine Matheson, Great Eagle Group and China Merchants Group, placed advertisements congratulating Lee on his election.

Wen Wei Po

“John Lee is elected with the highest votes, hugs wife on stage, gives flowers wishing happy Mother’s Day,” the headline of Beijing-controlled Wen Wei Po’s online version read on Sunday.

Wen Wei Po
Photo: Wen Wei Po, via screenshot.

The piece cited the speech Lee made after ballot counting was completed, saying that he hoped every one could “happily welcome this historic day.”

Wen Wei Po
Wen Wei Po on Monday. Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

On Monday, Wen Wei Po’s print edition ran a front-and-back cover spread with the headline: “John Lee elected with 99 per cent support rate, takes on historical mission with loyalty and determination.”

The newspaper highlighted that 97.7 per cent of the 1,461 Election Committee members cast their ballot, and 99.2 per cent of the votes were in support of Lee.

wen wei po john lee ads
Advertisements placed by industry groups and organisations with strong mainland ties in Wen Wei Po to congratulate John Lee on his election. Photo: Wen Wei Po.

Wen Wei Po ran hundreds of advertisements from pro-establishment industry groups and organisations with mainland ties, including the Hong Kong Construction Association, Confederacy of Hong Kong Shanwei Clansmen Limited and Hong Kong Guangdong Youth Association.


The paper also published a 30-page supplement on Lee, looking into his 45 years in public service and his aims as Hong Kong’s top leader-to-be.

Sing Tao

Meanwhile, Sing Tao Daily reported on the former chief secretary’s selection on Sunday with the headline “Emergence of new chief executive: John Lee receives 1,416 support votes, is elected as chief executive.”

Sing Tao Daily
Photo: Sing Tao Daily, via screenshot.

South China Morning Post

The South China Morning Post (SCMP) ran a live blog of the selection process, updating the story’s headline as events progressed. As of Sunday evening, the article was headlined “As it happened: John Lee confirmed as Hong Kong’s next leader with 1,416 votes, vows to recruit talent.”

Photo: SCMP screenshot.

On Monday, SCMP devoted its front page to the leadership race under the headline “Lee confirmed as city’s next leader.” The subtitle read: “Chief executive-elect vows to form a ‘passionate’ team to unite society still divided by turmoil of 2019.”

scmp john lee front page
The South China Morning Post’s front page on Monday. Photo: South China Morning Post, via Twitter.

Oriental Daily

On Sunday, Oriental Daily published the headline “John Lee receives 1,416 supporting votes, eight opposing votes, is elected as sixth chief executive.”

Oriental Daily John Lee
Photo: Oriental Daily, via screenshot.

The piece also cited the only self-proclaimed non-pro-establishment member in the Election Committee, Tik Chi-yuen, saying that he voted in support of Lee “to show goodwill.”

Monday’s print edition of Oriental Daily led with a full page on Lee being selected as the city’s next leader featuring the headline “John Lee [elected] with 1,416 votes; the road is long and the burden heavy [for the] new chief executive.”

Oriental Daily
Oriental Daily on Monday. Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

Below the newspaper’s fold, Oriental Daily published two more headlines, one saying that Lee has just a month and a half before taking the reins and needed to recruit figures for his administration, and the other stating that Lee was expected to be officially appointed by the central government within the week.

China Daily

The state-backed China Daily led its online coverage on Sunday with the headline “John Lee wins chief executive election.”

China Daily John Lee
Photo: China Daily, via screenshot.

“[Lee] has actively exchanged opinions with various sectors since joining the race,” the piece read, adding that the chief executive-elect held “numerous meetings” with industry representatives, and that he had “reached out to communities to listen to the demands of grassroots residents.”

The English version of China’s official news wire, Xinhua, led with “John Lee elected as HKSAR’s sixth-term chief executive designate,” whilst People’s Daily – the official Communist Party mouthpiece – led with “John Lee elected as HKSAR’s sixth-term chief executive designate: returning officer.”


British public broadcaster the BBC went with the headline “John Lee: The ex-security chief who became Hong Kong’s leader.

BBC John Lee
Photo: BBC, via screenshot.

The piece published on Sunday described Lee’s “appointment” as “being widely seen as a move by the Chinese government to tighten its grip on the city,” adding that he was “known to be a staunch Beijing supporter.”


US broadcaster CNN on Sunday led with the headline “Hong Kong’s next leader is a hardline former police officer who took on the city’s protesters.”

CNN John Lee
Photo: CNN, via screenshot.

The article also called the Election Committee “a largely government-appointed, pro-Beijing committee.”

“For many, Lee’s ascension speaks volumes about the direction Hong Kong — once world-renowned for its robust press, flourishing civil society and democratic aspirations — is headed. Lee has already indicated that he will look to introduce further national security legislation and possibly a law against fake news,” the piece read.

The Guardian

“John Lee: Hong Kong security chief who oversaw pro-democracy crackdown anointed new leader,” the Guardian’s headline read on Sunday.

Guardian John Lee
Photo: The Guardian, via screenshot.

“The elevation of Lee, subject of US sanctions, places a security official in the top job for the first time after a tumultuous few years for a city battered by political unrest and debilitating pandemic controls,” the piece, which was reported by AFP in Hong Kong, read.

The New York Times

The New York Times went with the headline “John Lee wins Hong Kong’s rubber-stamp election.”

The New York Times
Photo: The New York Times, via screenshot.

“John Lee, a former security chief known for his staunch loyalty to the Chinese government, was chosen as Hong Kong’s next leader on Sunday, through a selection process tightly controlled by Beijing in which he was the only candidate,” the piece read.


The 64-year-old Lee was “endorsed by pro-Beijing elites,” Reuters reported on Sunday with the headline “Hong Kong’s next leader endorsed by pro-Beijing elites.”

Photo: Reuters, via screenshot.

“Hong Kong’s leader-in-waiting, John Lee, was endorsed for the city’s top job on Sunday by a committee stacked with pro-Beijing loyalists, as the financial hub attempts to relaunch itself after several years of political upheaval,” the article read.

Associated Press

The chief-executive elect was described as a “Beijing loyalist” in Associated Press’ (AP) article on Sunday, titled “Beijing loyalist John Lee elected as Hong Kong’s next leader.”

AP John Lee
Photo: Associated Press, via screenshot.

AP described Election Committee members as “carefully vetted by the central government in Beijing,” and that “the elaborate arrangements surrounding the pre-determined outcome speak to Beijing’s desire for a veneer of democracy.”


On Sunday, Bloomberg called Lee “China-backed,” with the headline “China-Backed Lee Chosen Hong Kong Leader in Uncontested Vote.”

Photo: Bloomberg, via screenshot.

The piece also said John Lee was “formally confirmed” to the city’s next leader, and that it “solidifies an era of more direct Chinese political control over the once-freewheeling financial hub.”

Additional reporting: Hillary Leung.

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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.