‘Not a businessman’: Hong Kong’s next chief faces test on economy | Coronavirus pandemic

Hong Kong, China – Hong Kong’s leader-in-waiting, John Lee, has likened himself to a conductor with the power to guide a “new symphony” for the worldwide monetary hub.

Lee, who’s operating unopposed as the one “validly nominated candidate” in a tightly-controlled, small-circle election on Could 8, has his work minimize out for him.

Lee will inherit a metropolis languishing from two years of political crackdowns and strict pandemic insurance policies, which have fuelled an exodus of highly-skilled professionals and turned the once-thriving worldwide enterprise centre into one of many world’s most remoted cities.

Rolling out his 44-page political manifesto final week, Lee promised to breathe life again into the financial system, deal with town’s housing disaster, curb rising unemployment and strengthen governance.

However any hope of restoring town’s lustre should cope with Beijing’s uncompromising efforts to crush dissent and remove COVID-19 underneath a draconian “dynamic zero COVID” technique.

Beijing’s endorsement of Lee, previously Hong Kong’s quantity two official, has been extensively seen as an indication of China’s prioritisation of safety over enterprise. A former safety chief and profession police officer, Lee lacks the enterprise expertise of a few of his predecessors, which embody a property surveyor and a billionaire transport tycoon.

Lee led the response to the 2019 pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong and oversaw the arrests of dozens of individuals underneath a controversial nationwide safety legislation that has silenced virtually all vital voices in politics, civil society and media.

Tara Joseph, the previous president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, described it as “flabbergasting” {that a} enterprise hub like Hong Kong shall be led by somebody with no business expertise.

“He could also be a decisive chief. He could make town perform higher. That’s true. However he’s not a businessman. He doesn’t have hyperlinks to enterprise,” Joseph, who’s now senior director of US agency Technique Dangers, informed Al Jazeera. “He has hyperlinks to the safety equipment.”

Joseph, who left Hong Kong partly due to town’s strict pandemic measures, stated the “jury’s out” on whether or not Lee or another chief shall be allowed to distinguish Hong Kong’s COVID coverage from that of the mainland.

“The longer the dearth of connectivity continues in Hong Kong, the extra hurt it’s doing. We all know how many individuals are leaving. We all know it’s been very dangerous,” she stated.

Hong Kong skyline
Hong Kong has skilled an exodus of pros after greater than two years of political crackdowns and strict pandemic guidelines [File: Peter Park/AFP]

Professional-Beijing figures insist that Lee’s deal with safety won’t come on the expense of the financial system.

Former Finance Minister Frederick Ma stated he’s assured Lee will encompass himself with enterprise savvy advisers who will help steer the financial system.

“If you’re chief you depend on individuals,” Ma informed Al Jazeera. “He must get succesful individuals to assist. And if he manages to get succesful individuals they usually work as a crew, I’d be optimistic concerning the future. I certainly have hope.”

Ma stated it will likely be vital for the following chief to resolve uncertainty concerning the metropolis’s pandemic technique, which has prioritised reopening the borders with mainland China above the remainder of the world however failed to revive quarantine-free journey with both.

“I feel what’s secret is you want to decide, for those who’re going to open the mainland border, do it, however if you wish to observe the worldwide method, then do it that method,” he stated.

Lee has stated Hong Kong should “broaden its worldwide connectivity” and “set up a extra beneficial enterprise surroundings”, whereas additionally emphasising the necessity to reconnect town with the mainland.

Whereas Hong Kong just lately decreased resort quarantine from 14 to seven days and lifted a ban on the entry of non-residents, the steps are extensively seen as inadequate to convey again worldwide travellers.

“With out opening the borders, Hong Kong shall be minimising its alternatives for worldwide enterprise improvement,” George Cautherley, a Hong Kong-based businessman, informed Al Jazeera. “I don’t suppose there’s any different.”

‘Two bosses’

Lee has chosen a 148-strong advisory crew of highly effective businessmen and politicians, together with town’s richest man, Li Ka-shing, and leisure tycoon and property developer Allan Zeman.

Zeman stated he believes Lee will provoke negotiations with China to discover a method to reopen the border with the mainland.

“Lee is results-oriented, and he’s a doer, and he is aware of what must be finished, and I feel popping out of safety, he has a unique [kind of] respect from individuals, particularly from Beijing,” Zeman informed Al Jazeera.

“It’s not a simple place for anybody,” added Zeman, explaining town is caught between the necessity to reopen to the world and reconnect with the mainland, which is cautious of coronavirus instances coming throughout its land border.

“So it’s a must to negotiate with two bosses.”

Ronny Tong, an adviser to present Chief Government Carrie Lam, stated he additionally believes Lee will deal with Hong Kong’s reopening as a high precedence.

“So far as the battle in opposition to COVID-19 and opening the border of Hong Kong once more, I’m certain that is a part of the required path in an effort to revitalise the financial system of Hong Kong, and I’m certain this might be the primary activity that he would attend to if and when he will get elected,” Tong informed Al Jazeera.

Lee has beforehand sought to make the case that he’s not beholden to any enterprise curiosity teams, and due to this fact comes “with out baggage”.

“My main concern is the general curiosity, as a substitute of the curiosity of any sure sector,” he stated at a press briefing final month.

A spokesperson on the Hong Kong Basic Chamber of Commerce stated John Lee “brings a brand new mindset to the administration”.

“Lee has pledged to work along with the general public and enterprise to deal with Hong Kong’s longstanding points, such because the scarcity of housing,” the spokesperson stated. “So with a transparent consensus and roadmap, we’re assured town will be capable to bounce again.”

Hong Kong airport
Hong Kong has grow to be one of many world’s most remoted cities underneath China’s ‘dynamic zero COVID’ technique [File: Lam Yik/Reuters]

Jonathan Slone, former Asia chair at Jefferies Group, who’s now a personal investor, stated he sees the financial system changing into “an even bigger and larger focus” underneath the brand new administration.

“I feel they’ll be fairly sensible,” Slone informed Al Jazeera. “Is the enterprise group going to get all the pieces it desires? No, however I feel that these guys know that the financial system must get going.”

Others are extra sceptical.

Professional-democracy businessman Herbert Chow stated Lee has been given an “inconceivable activity” relating to jumpstarting the financial system.

“We’ll see how he can stability that with breaking the cycle of going backwards and forwards, faucet dancing on rest versus the retightening of COVID guidelines,” Chow informed Al Jazeera.

Chow stated he believes most companies “don’t care” about whether or not Lee, who has pledged to introduce extra nationwide safety laws, will speed up the crackdown on dissent.

“I feel many of the enterprise group won’t care an excessive amount of about how the police restore the connection with residents, or whether or not Hong Kong continues to be a police state,” stated Chow, who final yr introduced his intention to relocate his youngsters’s clothes model Chickeeduck abroad on account of stress from the authorities.

Requested whether or not Hong Kong may return to its glory days, Joseph, the previous AmCham president, stated town is taking a look at a “new regular”.

“And I feel individuals might want to alter to that,” she stated. “Hong Kong isn’t globally linked in the identical method any extra, so there are dangers with it. It could discover a method out of this mess, however way more as a metropolis in China.”

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