Chief Executive John Lee has defended an official’s criticism of a political cartoonist who satirised Hong Kong’s talent attraction strategies, saying that the government has the right to express itself.

Chief Executive John Lee walking out of the Legislative Council chamber after announcing his first Policy Address on October 19, 2022. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Speaking on a television programme on Sunday, Lee said: “If a department thinks [something] is unfair, it has the right to speak out.”

The leader was referring to the Secretary for Labour and Welfare Chris Sun’s condemnation of a political cartoon, by artist Wong Kei-kwan – better known as Zunzi – in newspaper Ming Pao on Friday. The illustration in question showed an advertisement on a bulletin board that said “urgently seeks world-class talent,” adding that those who were “accepting of strict governance” would be prioritised.

The Zunzi cartoon in question published in Ming Pao on October 21, 2022. Photo: Twitter.

“I noticed today a newspaper cartoon that shockingly used ‘strict governance’ as a ‘selling point’,” Sun wrote in a Facebook post on Friday evening, adding that the comic was “absurd and a serious deviation from the truth.”

“Such self-righteous humour will only damage Hong Kong’s image,” he said. “What I am most puzzled by is that Hong Kong society needs to unite during this crucial time as it transitions from order to prosperity… why are there people belittling themselves and speaking sarcastically of Hong Kong, their home?”

Skyscrapers in Central. Photo: GovHK.

Strategies for attracting talent and enterprises to Hong Kong were a key highlight in Lee’s Policy Address delivered last week, coming amid a population outflow attributed to the city’s strict Covid-19 rules and the political situation.

In his address, Lee unveiled a slew of strategies, among them a two-year scheme that will allow recent graduates of the world’s top universities to move to Hong Kong without first having secured a job offer.

A new government office will also be established to lure firms to Hong Kong with land and tax incentives, as well as provide “tailor-made plans to facilitate the setting up of their operations in Hong Kong,” Lee said.

Chief Executive John Lee met the press after announcing his first Policy Address on October 19, 2022. Photo: Almond Li/HKFP.

During his television appearance on Sunday, Lee reiterated that Hong Kong was an attractive destination. “We are beautiful and wise,” he said. “We have a lot of things that others do not have.”

In the crosshairs

The labour secretary’s attack on Wong’s cartoon marks the second time in weeks that his work has been in authorities’ crosshairs.

Earlier this month, Hong Kong police wrote a letter to Ming Pao expressing “strong concerns” over a Wong cartoon depicting riot police outside a school. After officers asked what “bad things” the students have done today, a headteacher listed their offences – swearing, losing an eraser, having laser pointers in their bags and talking back to and allegedly intimidating teachers.

The cartoon was published shortly after students of a Tsuen Wan school were suspended over missing a morning flag-raising ceremony. Police showed up to the campus that day, but the school clarified it was for a separate incident involving damage to its front gate.

Students in a hall in St. Francis Xavier’s School. Photo: St. Francis Xavier’s School, via Facebook.

Hong Kong passed a bill in 2020 criminalising disrespectful acts towards the Chinese national anthem, with a maximum penalty of three years in jail. Separately, guidelines issued by the Education Bureau last year require schools to hold flag-raising ceremonies once a week.

A veteran political cartoonist, Wong has been illustrating comics for 40 years and contributed to pro-Beijing publications New Evening Post and Ta Kung Pao in his early career. Later, his comics became a staple in Ming Pao, as well as in the defunct pro-democracy tabloid Apple Daily for decades.

Under the national security law, a number of the city’s political cartoonists have left the city citing concerns about shrinking freedom of expression. Cartoonists known by their pen names Ah To, vawongsir and Hong Kong Worker all announced their departure earlier this year.

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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.