John Lee was sworn in as Hong Kong’s chief executive Friday in the presence of Chinese President Xi Jinping, who is visiting the city for the 25th anniversary of its return to Chinese rule.
Lee was the city's security secretary during widespread pro-democracy protests in 2019 and was elected as Hong Kong’s new leader by a pro-Beijing committee in May.
“The next five years is a vital period for Hong Kong to move towards greater prosperity and better governance,” Lee said in an address at the city’s convention center, where the swearing-in ceremony took place.
"Fortunately with support from the central government and with Hong Kong people’s resilience, the city has overcome these challenges one after another, retaining the vitality and superiority of ‘one country, two systems’ in Hong Kong," he added.
The principle of "One country, two systems" gives Hong Kong freedoms not enjoyed in mainland China for 50 years - that is, until 2047 - although in recent years those freedoms have been undermined and legal processes have followed against those who organized the 2019 protests, opposition figures and media outlets critical of Beijing.
Although the protests reduced with the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, China crushed them in mid-2020 by imposing a controversial security law that led to the exile or imprisonment of the most prominent activists of the pro-democracy movement.
In his speech on Friday, Lee asserted that “the national security legislation and improvements to the electoral system have brought the city from chaos to prosperity.”
In an address after presiding over the swearing-in ceremony, Xi said that there was “no reason to change such a good system.”
The Chinese president urged the Hong Kong government to be more effective and integrate better with the mainland’s development strategies.
"The city cannot afford to descend into chaos,” he said.
“The public has good expectations to have better livelihoods, that they can live in a wider and bigger home, with more job opportunities, better education for the children, and can be better taken care of when they are old. The new government should not disappoint them, and should place these expectations as top priorities,” he added.
“We must be pragmatic and promising, live up to the people, take the expectations of the whole society, especially ordinary citizens, as the greatest pursuit of governance, and take bolder and more effective measures to overcome difficulties,” Xi stressed.
Lee will inherit some problems from his predecessor, Carrie Lam, one of the least popular leaders in the city's history.
In recent years, the economy of the former British colony has faced, in addition to internal political turmoil, geopolitical ups and downs amid disputes between China and the West and the Covid-19 pandemic.
Some critics doubt that Lee, given his little experience in economic policy, is capable of reviving the city's economy, which contracted 2.9 percent in the first quarter of the year, when the city saw its worst coronavirus outbreak after having managed to keep it at bay until then.
That resurgence of the virus in Hong Kong, which had maintained strict border controls under its zero-Covid strategy, including long quarantines for those entering the city, undermined its position as a global financial hub. EFE