Hong Kong’s new chief executive, John Lee, has focused on security throughout his career and is largely “untested” in other areas, according to the CEO of a consultancy firm.
“He’s a blank sheet of paper for most people in the community. That gives him flexibility, I think,” said David Dodwell of Strategic Access.
“But that means how he’s going to manage is perhaps more uncertain … than any leadership we’ve had in the last 25 years,” he told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia” on Monday.
Lee, a Beijing loyalist and the only candidate for Hong Kong’s top job, won the vast majority of votes in Sunday’s election.
“His life has been spent on security issues, first in the police force and then as security secretary here in Hong Kong. in any other area,” Dodwell said.
How Lee governs Hong Kong will depend on the team gathered around him, he added.
Michael Tien, a Hong Kong lawmaker, who said he voted for Lee in Sunday’s election, told CNBC the next chief executive close experience might be a good thing.
“The weakness that people perceive in John Lee is that he has only been in security and seems to have very little experience in other areas of public governance,” he told “Capital Connection” from CNBC.
“On the other hand, it could also be a strength if he can transform that [around] and being open-minded in listening to others,” Tien said.
The Hong Kong government has yet to respond to CNBC’s request for comment.
The Hong Kong government said on Sunday that 1,416 members of the largely pro-Beijing election committee voted for Lee. Some 1,428 votes were cast in the secret ballot – giving Lee over 99% of the vote.
Lee will begin her five-year term on July 1, succeeding outgoing chief executive Carrie Lam.
Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China governed by the “one country, two systems” framework. The city has limited electoral rights and its legal and economic system is largely separated from the mainland.
Last year Hong Kong’s electoral system underwent a major reform and Beijing said only so-called “patriots” should be allowed to rule the city.
“It’s a stretch” to describe Hong Kong’s vote as a “real election” by comparing it to the Philippines’ election, Dodwell said.
The Philippines held its presidential election on Monday in which more than 67 million voters registered to participate. By comparison, Hong Kong’s election committee has about 1,500 members who could participate in Sunday’s vote.
People who vote are “carefully screened as patriotic supporters of the government”, and the result is “not surprising”, he said.
Tien said the system in Hong Kong is “about the same format as on the mainland” now, but said the number of opposing votes was significant.
“If you get surprisingly high opposition votes, that means you’re not doing a good job,” he said.
The eight votes against Lee show that there are people who are still unsure of him, Tien said, adding that this is something Lee should take note of.
Dodwell said the new leader will have to tackle the divisions that sit “at the heart of Hong Kong”, which have not gone away.
The past few years have been politically turbulent in Hong Kong, particularly in 2019 when pro-democracy protests against a now-withdrawn extradition bill turned violent.
China passed a national security law for Hong Kong in 2020. The law aims to prohibit secession, subversion of state power, terrorist activities and foreign interference, according to Lam. The United States and the United Kingdom, however, said the legislation would undermine the city’s autonomy.
“We have, structurally, a very divided community between those who feel fiercely patriotic and those who worry about the loss of various institutional protections,” he said.
Dodwell also said Hong Kong’s former rulers failed to tackle the city’s “core social issues” such as jobs and housing.
“I think that’s one of the reasons John Lee says he’s going to lead a results-oriented administration. People are going to expect very specific accomplishments and very soon,” he said. declared.
Tien said Lee should “go out and get closer to people and crowds,” which Lam hasn’t done in recent years.
“In Hong Kong, the perception of stepping out, reaching out, shaking hands and listening to the masses is important, especially when it comes to an individual race and the outcome is pretty much guaranteed. “, Tien said.
In remarks to the media after Sunday’s vote, Lee said that over the past month he has met with many people, including members of the public, and received tens of thousands of messages and suggestions.
They have “deepened my understanding of the various issues facing our society and how people hope the government can do more,” he added.