This is Hot Mic and I'm Nidhi Razdan.
Hong Kong got a new leader last week. Former security chief John Lee Ka-chiu, was "elected" to the post, an election in which he was the only candidate. It is a move that critics say only reinforces the view that Hong Kong has turned into a complete police state and Lee's appointment will only tighten Beijing's grip on the city, which has seen China using a heavy hand to crush pro-democracy voices.
The former British colony is nowhere near its old self under Beijing's rule. Jon Lee, not surprisingly, is staunchly pro-China in his views. He wasn't even directly chosen by the people, but rather handpicked by Beijing.
An election committee comprising of Beijing loyalists chose John Lee to head Hong Kong. So what do we know about the 64-year-old leader? He has a police background to begin with. He joined the Hong Kong police force back in 1977 at the age of 20. When he was promoted to Secretary of Security in the last administration, he became the face of the local government as massive street protests rocked Hong Kong in 2019. Those protests were over an extradition bill which would have sent suspects from Hong Kong to mainland China, where courts operate under the ruling Communist Party. Those protests, which began peacefully, also turned violent.
The police then came under intense scrutiny and were criticized for their heavy handedness when they used water cannons tear gas, rubber bullets and even live ammunition against the protesters. And the police came under John Lee.
However, Lee strongly defended the use of force by the police, saying that the violent actions by some protesters amounted to "terrorism" and "extremism." Lee has been slapped with US sanctions since then for undermining the city's autonomy during those protests.
China's authoritarian rule in Hong Kong came swiftly but many point out it was actually many years in the making. There were those who believe that Xi Jinping would not go very far because of Hong Kong's vital financial role globally. But how far he would go was clearly underestimated.
In June 2020, China passed a draconian national security law for Hong Kong, which makes it easier to punish protesters and dissenters and led to the arrest of more than 100 people. Under this law, independent media publications have been shut down.
While journalists and media executives have been charged with "colluding with foreign forces" as well as sedition. Pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily was forced to shut down in 2021 and its founder, Jimmy Lai has been charged with foreign collusion under this national security law.
The New York Times has moved part of its Asia operations from Hong Kong to Seoul. Almost all prominent pro-democracy activists have been jailed with others fleeing abroad or being intimidated into silence. Civil liberties and human rights simply do not exist.
Thousands of residents have left Hong Kong amid the 2019 protests and the subsequent harsh pandemic restrictions, including many professionals and expatriates. John Lee is also part of a new committee which oversees national security matters. He has backed the new law, which he says will restore "stability from chaos." So it's clear that security issues will be a priority during his tenure, which includes a controversial security law known as 'Article 23', which requires Hong Kong to enact laws "on its own" to prohibit any act of treason, secession, sedition, subversion against the central government or theft of state secrets, as well as to ban foreign political organizations or bodies from conducting political activities in the city. He's also taken on the media saying last year that the Hong Kong government would look at creating laws to address what he called "fake news." The Chinese Communist Party has effectively shut down the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.
In March 2021, China's parliament approved a law giving a pro-Beijing committee in Hong Kong the power to vet candidates for Hong Kong's legislature, making it virtually impossible for any pro-democracy candidates to run for office.
Hong Kong authorities have also prohibited the city's annual Tiananmen vigil, commemorating the June 4th, 1989 massacre in Beijing. The US, Canada, Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, France, the Netherlands and other Western countries have suspended extradition treaties with Hong Kong amid concerns that the city's authorities would abuse those agreements to pursue political targets.
The US has also revoked Hong Kong's special status, ending preferential trade privileges and prohibiting the export of sensitive technologies.
Businesses, however, have not left Hong Kong as some predicted they might. But financial institutions are struggling to comply with conflicting sanctions regimes.
The city's schools are now required to include "national security" in their curriculum. Teachers have also been fired for classroom content considered subversive or seditious. And there are strict new regulations that forbid "disrespecting the country."
Several pro-democracy trade unions and organizations have also been dissolved. There's the Civil Human Rights Front, a pro-democracy group that organized some of the biggest protests in 2019 - that has also been disbanded after a police investigation under the new draconian national security law. Other pro-democracy activists have also been arrested for taking part in protests that are deemed illegal.
John Lee is taking power at a time where the global financial hub, Hong Kong, is struggling because of the pandemic but he also has to address issues such as lack of housing and growing inequality.
However, it's clear that very few have the voice to question his or Beijing's authority any longer.