China announces new Hong Kong leader John Lee's Cabinet

Finance secretary Paul Chan (left) retains his post while Mr Eric Chan becomes the new chief secretary, or No. 2 official.

HONG KONG (REUTERS, BLOOMBERG, AFP) - China unveiled on Sunday (June 19) a list of Hong Kong government officials in the new administration of incoming leader John Lee, set to be sworn in on July 1, when the financial hub marks the 25th anniversary of its handover from Britain.

Lists from the official Xinhua news agency and the Hong Kong government showed Finance Secretary Paul Chan retains his post, while Mr Paul Lam replaces Ms Teresa Cheng as justice secretary, and Mr Eric Chan becomes the new chief secretary, or No. 2 official.

The executives will take office on July 1.

"The next five years is a critical time for Hong Kong to move from stability to prosperity," Mr Lee said at a press briefing on Sunday. The new government will be results-oriented, he said.

"We will be proactive in winning the trust of the people... My team and I will rise to the challenges leading Hong Kong.” 

Four of the Cabinet members were under US sanctions which Washington imposed two years ago after a sweeping national security law was implemented to snuff out dissent in the city following the massive, sometimes violent democracy protests of 2019. 

They included Mr Lee, Mr Chan, security minister Chris Tang and mainland affairs minister Erick Tsang.

Mr Lee also said he "scoffed at the so-called sanctions" and paid them no attention.   

"Some countries of bullies tried to intimidate (Hong Kong) officials with measures like sanctions, especially after their plots to sabotage our national security failed because of the measures we deployed," he said. "This made us more determined in continuing to discharge our duties of defending national security." 

Some Hong Kong media have said President Xi Jinping is expected to attend Mr Lee’s swearing-in ceremony in Hong Kong, but it was not confirmed whether any senior mainland leaders would attend.  

The city’s economy is facing a myriad challenges as Covid-19 quarantine measures have largely isolated the once-vibrant city since early 2020 amid a plunge in Chinese markets.

Hong Kong is on high alert as Covid-19 infections have risen to more than 1,000 recently, although there is no sign yet of tighter curbs ahead of the swearing-in.  

The city’s economy contracted 4 per cent in the first quarter, one of its worst performances in the past 30 years.

The Hong Kong Monetary Authority on May 12 intervened to prop up the local dollar for the first time since 2019 as it approached the weak end of its trading band against the United States currency.   

Mr Lee, a former policeman who is known largely for overseeing a crackdown on protesters and implementing a national security law, has little business experience as he prepares to take over leadership of the government.

Global investors and the local business community are both awaiting clarity on his financial and economic policies and, most importantly, whether he will loosen Covid-19 travel restrictions that have put the city’s status as an international financial hub at risk. 

Mr Paul Lam has been named the new justice secretary. PHOTO: AFP

In his first comments after being picked by 99 per cent of 1,424 valid ballots cast by a committee of China loyalists in an uncontested race, Mr Lee vowed to safeguard security and protect Hong Kong from internal and external threats.

He said he would also work to enhance overall competitiveness and seek to integrate the city’s economy with neighbouring Guangdong province as part of the Greater Bay Area plan.

After overseeing Hong Kong’s land supply for five years, Mr Chan, an accountant by training, was appointed financial secretary by Beijing in January 2017. 

His biggest most recent measures included distributing HK$102.4 billion (S$18.2 billion) in consumption vouchers for two consecutive years to prop up growth as businesses shuttered and unemployment climbed.

Mr Chan also raised stock trading stamp duty last year for the first time since 1993, a surprise move to shore up government finances that shook markets.

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