HONG KONG: Hong Kong chief administrator Carrie Lam has said that 'Chinese patriots' are now in charge of the city following the appointment of its new leader, who ran unopposed in an election process controlled by Beijing.
A carefully-vetted election committee voted overwhelmingly to approve John Lee, a hard-line security chief who oversaw a crackdown of Hong Kong's pro-democracy protests in 2019.
The protests led to Beijing' imposition of a sweeping National Security Law and the reorganization of the city's legislature, leading to the jailing of political opponents and the silencing of dissenting voices.
Appearing with Lee, Lam, who is stepping down after a single five-year term as leader, said the changes were necessary to restore order and stability in the city.
"I want to thank the central government again for taking resolute measures when Hong Kong faced unprecedented challenges. It formulated the National Security Law, which helped Hong Kong transform from chaos to order, and also improved Hong Kong's electoral system so that we can achieve long-term peace and stability," she said.
While citing the need to restore order as the motivation for political change in Hong Kong, China demanded that only 'patriots', those loyal to the ruling Communist Party, can hold office.
The establishment of the political system of "patriots running Hong Kong" is vital for Hong Kong's future, Lam added.
According to foreign ministers of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the U.S., the selection process was "part of a continued assault on political pluralism and fundamental freedoms."
In a joint statement, they said, "The current nomination process and resulting appointment further erode the ability of Hong Kongers to be legitimately represented. We are deeply concerned about this steady erosion of political and civil rights, and Hong Kong's autonomy."
In response, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian rejected criticism of the election from the European Union, whose foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said Lee's selection "violates democratic principles and political pluralism in Hong Kong."
At a daily briefing, Zhao said the election "shows that the new electoral system is a good system, in line with the principle of 'one country, two systems' and the reality in Hong Kong, and reflects the mainstream public opinion and consensus of staying in solidarity and striving for prosperity of all walks of life in Hong Kong."