Hong Kong’s Chief Executive-elect has said that threats to national security must be handled “in accordance with the law,” when asked about the recent arrest of Cardinal Joseph Zen.

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

During an appearance on a Commercial Radio show on Sunday, the host recounted the recent arrest of the 90-year-old Zen and asked Lee whether it had tarnished Hong Kong’s image internationally.

“I think the message is very clear to Hong Kong people and to the world,” Lee, who is Catholic, said. “In any place, there will be people whose background means they have a special kind of support, but if their behaviour involves offending the law, it must be handled in accordance with the law,” Lee said.

Zen and four other activists were arrested last week in connection with the 612 Humanitarian Relief fund, which supported protesters during the anti-extradition unrest.

They stood accused of conspiring to collude with foreign powers, a crime under the national security law passed by Beijing in June 2020.

Zen’s arrest sparked concern western politicians and rights groups. The Vatican said they were “following the development of the situation with extreme attention.”

Cardinal Joseph Zen
Cardinal Joseph Zen leaving Chai Wan Police Station on May 11, 2022 at around 11 p.m. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Beijing, however, hit back at criticism of the activists’ arrests, calling such statements an intrusion into Hong Kong and China’s affairs.

“What happened in 2019 made us realise that there are acts endangering national security stirring up trouble. This created a lot of hurt… things that breach national security must be handled in accordance with the law,” Lee said.

The protests in 2019 were triggered by a controversial extradition bill that would have allowed the transfer of fugitives to mainland China to stand trial. They evolved into months-long demonstrations against the Hong Kong and central governments, as well as alleged police brutality.

Governing cabinet

As the sole candidate in the May 8 small-circle leadership race, Lee was elected to the city’s top job earlier this month. He will take the reins from incumbent Chief Executive Carrie Lam on July 1.

John Lee Carrie Lam
Current Chief Executive Carrie Lam and Chief Executive-elect John Lee. Photo: GovHK.

Asked on the radio show who will join his governing cabinet, Lee declined to give names, but said he had ideas for who would occupy the chief secretary position, known also as the no. 2 post.

When selecting his cabinet, Lee said he would place more emphasis on a person’s experience and knowledge than their background.

“I will look at whether their ability, experience and ideals fulfil what I hope they can do in that aspect,” he said.

CE election 2022 John Lee
Chief Executive-elect John Lee. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

During his campaign, Lee said he would set Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for tasks to be completed within the first 100 days of his administration to measure the effectiveness of his leadership.

The city’s next leader said on the radio show that such indicators would be established for projects such as creating a cross-government department emergency response unit and providing support for 1,000 secondary school students living in subdivided flats.

The setting of KPIs, he added, would “strengthen” the results-oriented approach he campaigned on.

Lee did not answer a question from the show host on what targets he would set for himself personally.

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Hillary Leung

Hillary has an interest in social issues and politics. Previously, she reported on Asia broadly - including on Hong Kong's 2019 protests - for TIME Magazine and covered local news at Coconuts Hong Kong.