China unveiled on Sunday new top officials in Hong Kong under incoming leader John Lee, who vowed to take the global financial hub to fresh heights, while shrugging off concerns about sanctions the United States has imposed on him.
In a sign of continuity for the financial industry, which had watched the appointment closely, Finance Secretary Paul Chan, who is free of U.S. sanctions, is to retain his post in the Chinese-ruled territory.
Hong Kong’s new justice secretary will be Paul Lam, taking the place of Teresa Cheng, while Eric Chan becomes the new chief secretary, or No. 2 official, said the official news agency, Xinhua, and the territory’s government.
Lee, the former deputy leader of Hong Kong, will be sworn in to replace Chief Executive Carrie Lam on July 1, a day after the end of her five-year term.
Lam oversaw one of the territory’s most tumultuous periods, featuring pro-democracy demonstrations, a sweeping new national security law and the battle against the coronavirus.
“The next five years will be a crucial time for Hong Kong to advance from stability to prosperity,” Lee told a news conference.
“We will be proactive in winning the trust of the people … My team and I will rise to the challenges leading Hong Kong.”
Some Hong Kong media have said President Xi Jinping is expected to attend Lee’s swearing-in ceremony in Hong Kong, but it was not confirmed if senior mainland leaders would attend.
A former career police officer, Lee is widely expected to prioritise security issues, after having urged new legislation to fully implement the national security law Beijing imposed in 2020.
The U.S. sanctions targeted him, along with other Hong Kong and Chinese officials, for what Washington called their role in curbing Hong Kong’s freedoms under the security law.
“Some bullying countries tried to use sanction measures to scare officials,” Lee said. “That makes us more persistent to carry on maintaining national security.”
The United States also put sanctions on Eric Chan, who is to be Lee’s deputy.
Hong Kong and Chinese authorities deny individual rights are being eroded and say the security legislation was needed to restore stability after prolonged unrest in 2019.
Lam, the new justice secretary, has been a deputy judge of the city’s high court since 2015.
A British colony until 1997, Hong Kong is on high alert as Covid-19 infections have risen to more than 1,000, though there is no sign yet of tighter curbs ahead of the swearing-in.
Its measures still rate among the toughest, with at least a week’s hotel quarantine for overseas visitors and mandatory daily testing for tens of thousands of people.