By Kelly Ho, Almond Li and Tom Grundy.
China’s Xi Jinping inaugurated John Lee as Hong Kong’s new chief executive on Friday, marking the 25th anniversary of the city’s Handover from Britain to China, amid high security and media restrictions.
Xi arrived by Express Rail Link for the second day running as he did not stay overnight, reportedly over Covid-19 concerns.
Roads were closed around Wan Chai during a T3-level typhoon, and the building was surrounded with two-metre water-filled barriers and police.
Wearing a red patterned tie and a white face mask with the number “25” printed on it, Lee was sworn in at around 10.15 a.m. after he took oath in Mandarin in front of Xi. The pair posed for photos side by side, before high-ranking officials of Lee’s administration took their pledges.
In his inauguration speech, Lee said he took on the role as Hong Kong chief executive with “humility.” He thanked the central government for its support, and citizens for their trust, saying he would lead his team to do their best in building a “inclusive and energetic” Hong Kong.
He went on to say Hong Kong has made outstanding achievements over the past 25 years, including being the ranked “the world’s freest economy” and having five local universities being ranked among the global top 100.
In Full: Chief Executive John Lee’s inauguration speech – click to view.
Honourable President Xi, distinguished guests, fellow citizens,
Today, with a humble heart, I have been sworn in by the President of the People’s Republic of China as the Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR). I would like to extend my sincere gratitude to the Central People’s Government and the people of Hong Kong for the trust they place in me. I will lead my team to strive to build a more caring and inclusive Hong Kong filled with vibrancy, hope and development opportunities.
Twenty-five years ago, at the stroke of midnight on July 1, the national anthem of the People’s Republic of China was played and the national flag and the HKSAR regional flag were raised gradually at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, where we are right now. It is at that solemn moment that the HKSAR was officially established and the great and innovative principle of “One Country, Two Systems” was formally implemented.
The principle of “One Country, Two Systems” is the institutional safeguard of Hong Kong and the cornerstone of maintaining Hong Kong’s long-term prosperity and stability. It is also a successful national policy that allows Hong Kong to maintain its unique strengths. Over the past two and a half decades, Hong Kong has made impressive achievements on multiple fronts. It has been recognised as the world’s freest economy, the world’s No. 3 global financial centre and the fifth most competitive economy around the globe. Hong Kong is also the world’s largest offshore Renminbi hub and the world’s No. 1 in terms of air cargo throughput. In addition, five of the universities in Hong Kong are in the World Top 100. The list goes on.
Hong Kong has of course also encountered various challenges, including the global financial crisis, the unlawful occupy movement in 2014, the Mong Kok riots in 2016, the riots and violence in 2019 together with the interference in Hong Kong’s affairs by external forces which threatened our national security, and the COVID-19 pandemic. Thanks to the full support of the Central Authorities, the vitality and strength of the “One Country, Two Systems” principle, as well as Hong Kong citizens’ diligence and determination to seek improvements, Hong Kong succeeded to overcome each and every challenge and move forward to scale new heights.
This fully demonstrates two major strengths of Hong Kong. The first one comprises Hong Kong’s unique advantages under “One Country, Two Systems” as a special administrative region – making it possible for Hong Kong to fully integrate into our country’s national development, to thrive as a metropolitan city with high international connectivity, and to serve as the most effective gateway between the world and our country. The second is the combination of our own advantages, resilience and strong will of our people, and the concerted efforts of all sectors of the community.
It is the greatest honour for me today to shoulder this historic mission given to me by the Central Authorities and the people of Hong Kong. I know well the great responsibility that comes with it. I will strive to comprehensively and accurately implement the principles of “One Country, Two Systems”, “Hong Kong people administering Hong Kong” and a high degree of autonomy, to safeguard the constitutional order of the HKSAR as defined under the Constitution and the Basic Law, to safeguard our country’s sovereignty, national security, and development interests, and to ensure the long-term prosperity and stability of Hong Kong.
The rule of law is the cornerstone and core value of Hong Kong’s success. Since our return to the motherland, the Basic Law protects the rights and freedoms of Hong Kong residents and protects the independent judiciary and final adjudication. Hong Kong has been ranked as the world’s No. 19 in the rule of law, followed by many countries in Europe and America. Being a highly market-oriented and international economy underpinned by the rule of law, Hong Kong has exactly what it takes to be a successful international city.
With the enactment and implementation of the Hong Kong National Security Law, Hong Kong has made it to restore order from chaos. The improvement of the electoral system has enabled the implementation of the principle of “patriots administering Hong Kong”. The improved electoral system upholds the principle of “One Country, Two Systems”, accords with the actual situation of Hong Kong, and caters for the needs of Hong Kong’s development. It is therefore imperative that we should cherish and uphold the system for a long time to come, and we should make good use of it to effect sound governance.
The next five years will be a crucial time for Hong Kong to advance from governance to prosperity. The HKSAR Government will press ahead to overcome challenges with a pragmatic and can-do attitude, and adopt a result-oriented approach to solve social problems. The governing team will value teamwork and the need to support and complement one another. We are bold to change, willing to embrace challenges and seek innovation in order to enhance the efficiency of governance and tackle problems for the people. Leading officials of the Government will proactively intervene to solve problems and make directions to nip problems in the bud. We will be mindful of the public’s expectations in policy making. Even if we may only solve one problem a day, without making such small steps, it is simply impossible to get to faraway places. Through perseverance we shall succeed.
The HKSAR Government will enhance Hong Kong’s competitiveness and develop the economy. Apart from strengthening our established sectors and reinforcing Hong Kong’s status as an international financial, transportation and trading centre, we will strive to fully develop a range of emerging industries under the National 14th Five-Year Plan. Emphasis will be put on the development of Hong Kong into an international innovation and technology (I&T) hub, leveraging and combining the respective strengths of Hong Kong and the Mainland, as well as strengths of other places, and facilitating the commercialisation of our basic research results as driven by the industry chains, talent and market forces in the Mainland, especially the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area. In doing so, we will foster robust growth in I&T and various areas, and rise to the challenges of global competition.
The newly opened Hong Kong Palace Museum, which showcases a rich trove of national treasures plus Chinese history and culture, is set to attract visitors from all over the world to come to Hong Kong, and is conducive to the spread of the fine Chinese culture. This, coupled with the M+ museum of modern and contemporary visual culture and a series of Hong Kong’s cultural and arts exhibitions and performances, will work well together in developing Hong Kong into an East meets West centre for international cultural exchange, thereby enhancing the international positioning of Hong Kong. The Belt and Road Initiative and the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area development also bring us unlimited opportunities and room for development.
Development is the gold key to resolving social problems and improving people’s livelihood. Our governance will be people-based. We will tackle the problem of land and housing, set up working groups to enhance action and co-ordination, and expedite developments through improving efficiency and increasing quantity holistically. Diversified sources of land and housing supply will be explored. We will also adopt a scientific and precise management approach to bring under control the COVID-19 epidemic situation, strengthen the resilience of our healthcare system, and enhance protection of the elderly and the young children. Young people are the future of society. We will formulate a comprehensive youth policy and development blueprint, broaden the scope for upward mobility of our youngsters, and encourage them to embrace the opportunities of the Greater Bay Area and make their dreams come true. We will enhance our education system, and nurture a new generation of youth with an affection for our country, a global perspective and a perspective of the overall situation as well.
Development aside, the Government will stay vigilant and strive to keep crises at bay. We will lay the foundation for stability and ensure that there are adequate preventive and protective capabilities to counter threats against national security, financial security, food and health security, supplies security, etc. The Government will send officials and delegations to visit overseas countries and regions. We shall make good use of our discourse power to tell a good Hong Kong story and tell them the achievements and real truth about the success of Hong Kong.
My campaign slogan is “Starting a New Chapter for Hong Kong Together”. “Together” is the key word. The word “together” reflects the great importance I attach to teamwork. It carries a dual meaning: first, my team and I will stay united, share common goals and work with concerted efforts to achieve the synergy effect of “one plus one is greater than two”; second, the Government will work together with the community in unity and give full play to our strengths in charting the future of Hong Kong. With the concerted efforts of the Government, the community and individuals, we will be working with one heart and will become even stronger to overcome all the difficulties ahead.
Fellow citizens, we are now all set at a new starting line. We are in no way complacent about our past achievements, and will strive to overcome challenges and problems ahead. Let’s join hands and stay united in passing on the Hong Kong legacy of courage and strong will to overcome challenges. Together, we will start a new chapter for building a better Hong Kong, contribute to the long-term prosperity and stability of Hong Kong, and contribute to realise China’s dream of national rejuvenation.
Hong Kong also faced a lot of challenges, the new leader said, citing the global financial crisis, the 2014 pro-democracy Umbrella Movement, the 2016 Mong Kok unrest, the 2019 “insurrection” and foreign forces “interfering” the city, as well as the Covid-19 pandemic. Lee was the security minister when large-scale protests and unrest erupted in 2019, sparked by a now-axed extradition amendment bill.
“Thanks to the full support of the Central Authorities, the vitality and strength of the “One Country, Two Systems” principle… Hong Kong succeeded to overcome each and every challenge and move forward to scale new heights,” Lee said.
The enforcement of the national security law allowed Hong Kong to return to order from chaos, while the electoral overhaul passed in May last year allowed Hong Kong to implement “patriots ruling Hong Kong,” Lee added.
The 64-year-old said that, in the coming five years, he would “see the outcome as a goal” and improve the administration’s governance with a “reform spirit.” He pledged to set up action groups to increase housing supply and control the pandemic. “We shall make good use of our discourse power to tell a good Hong Kong story and tell them the achievements and real truth about the success of Hong Kong,” he said.
Known for his hardline approach against the pro-democracy movement, he also oversaw the implementation of the Beijing-imposed security law in 2020. Lee is the first former officer from the government’s security branch to lead post-colonial Hong Kong.
Hong Kong effectively barred several local and international news outlets from the inauguration – including Nikkei, Getty and HKFP – whilst many other mainstream outlets faced restrictions and rejected applications to send journalists.
Xi urges ‘patriotic’ Hong Kong
Xi delivered a 32-minute speech after Lee, urging Hong Kong to accurately put the policy of One Country, Two Systems into practice, with all residents “respecting and safeguarding the fundamental system of the country consciously.”
The city must also ensure the “full sovereignty” of Beijing and the Special Administrative Region’s high degree of autonomy align with each other. Only by doing so will Hong Kong be “governed well,” he said.
He went on to say that Hong Kong must implement “patriots ruling Hong Kong,” with political power lying only in the hands of those who love the country. As a “worldwide political doctrine,” no country or region would allow its people to be unpatriotic or even treasonous, he claimed.
Hong Kong must also maintain its unique position and advantages, Xi said, including consolidating its role as a financial, aviation and trading hub, adding that the city will make a “major contribution” to the historical process of “realising the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” Hong Kong must proactively complement the National 14th Five-Year Plan, the infrastructure development in the Greater Bay Area, and the Belt and Road Initiative, he added.
Hong Kong should improve its governance by attracting “resolutely patriotic” talent and those with outstanding governing skills, the Chinese leader said. The new administration should establish a new ambience that “dared to take responsibility and do good deeds.”
The new government should alleviate livelihood issues, ensure homes are more spacious, and offer Hongkongers opportunities to launch businesses and better educate their children, he said. Hong Kong must lead teenagers to “deeply understand” China’s development, “enhance national pride” and ensure a sense of “being the protagonist.”
Heavy police presence
West Kowloon Station remained barricaded with a heavy police presence on Friday morning, as the Chinese leader arrived. Key roads remained closed across the city, as pedestrians were diverted away from footbridges.
Police asked journalists at the scene to register their ID card numbers and their press credentials.
Officers from the Police Public Relations Branch also searched their bags and took away umbrellas, which they said would be returned to journalists later.
Members of the press at the scene were asked to share dozens of umbrellas provided by the police during the T3-level typhoon.
New social media accounts
The new chief executive launched new accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Weibo on Friday morning. Lee posted a photo showing Hong Kong’s skyline and Victoria Harbour, with a line reading: “Start a new chapter for Hong Kong.” He said he would share his daily work and life with the public, in the hope of facilitating interactions with citizens.
He also shared a photo of him and his wife Janet Lee, thanking her for “taking care of everything” and looking after the family, which allowed him to take on the city’s top job “with no worries.”
As of 9 a.m. on Friday, Lee had 1,209 followers on Facebook, 456 followers on Instagram and 88,000 fans on Chinese microblogging site Weibo.
Ahead of July 1, Hong Kong authorities already took action to ensure this year’s celebrations would not be met with protests.
On Wednesday, the League of Social Democrats (LSD), one of Hong Kong’s last-standing opposition groups, announced that they will not hold any demonstration on the 25th anniversary of the city’s handover after some of its volunteers were summoned for meetings by the national security police.
It was the first time in years that the LSD did not stage a protest on July 1 – traditionally a day of protest and fundraising for civil society groups. However, at around 7 a.m., LSD activist Avery Ng started livestreaming on social media after he said he “could not go out on July 1.”
He was among six LSD members who said their homes were searched by national security police, before they were taken to police stations for a meeting on Wednesday, where officers warned them not to organise protests. He described his condition as being a “de facto confinement” in the livestream, adding he could only be “released” after Chinese leader Xi left Hong Kong. He told HKFP on Thursday that he and other LSD members were “under constant surveillance” ahead of the the celebrations, but added that he was not under house arrest.
Last year, the group marched in a four-person demonstration in Wan Chai towards the flag-raising venue.
Pro-Beijing heavyweight Rita Fan later commented on the news, saying people should just celebrate the important anniversary “quietly and happily.”
On Thursday, Tam Yiu-chung, Hong Kong’s sole delegate to China’s top legislative body, said he tested positive for Covid-19, local media reported. He was not seen at West Kowloon Station on Wednesday afternoon, the first time Xi left the mainland since the onset of the pandemic.
Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Erick Tsang and Director of the Chief Executive’s Office Eric Chan also contracted Covid-19 last week. According to footage provided by the Information Services Department, Chan, the designated chief secretary of Lee’s administration, was present when Xi met with representatives from various sectors on Thursday afternoon, but Tsang was not spotted on the scene. Both officials were sworn in, in-person, on Friday.
All officials and guests attending Friday’s 25th Handover anniversary celebrations and the inauguration ceremony were subject to a closed-loop arrangement, including taking daily Covid-19 tests.
They were also required to undergo quarantine at a designated hotel.
Meeting former leaders
On the first day of his visit, Xi met with former leader Carrie Lam. He praised Lam for carrying out her constitutional duty as chief executive whilst firmly implementing One Country Two Systems and the Basic Law, according to state-run news wire Xinhua.
Xi also said Lam had implemented the “patriots ruling Hong Kong” principle, and done a lot of “tough work” on helping Hong Kong restore “from chaos to order,” adding that Beijing fully acknowledged her work during her five-year tenure.
Xi said he hoped Lam would continue support Lee and his new administration.
The state leader also met with another former chief executive Leung Chun-ying, who is now the vice chairman of China’s top political advisory body. Xi complimented Leung’s “invaluable” contribution for Hong Kong’s prosperity.
Xi also inspected the Science Park in Sha Tin. According to a government statement, “President Xi addressed more than 30 representatives of Hong Kong scientific researchers and young entrepreneurs and encouraged them to make greater contributions to show his care for Hong Kong’s youth in particular.”
Xi concluded his visit to Hong Kong at around 1 p.m. when he and his wife were sent off by the Hong Kong leader and his partner, as well as ex-chief executive Carrie Lam at West Kowloon Station. Twelve officials were also present to bid farewell to the Chinese leader.
Dozens of primary school students and other personnel invited to the station waited for over 40 minutes for Xi and his wife. The crowds waved floral bouquets and flags to patriotic tunes. They chanted: “Welcome to come again, goodbye president,” as Xi clapped, nodded and smiled.
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