HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong’s next leader, John Lee, received an official letter of appointment from Beijing on Monday, a month before he is to take over the leadership of the semi-autonomous city.
Lee received his letter of appointment from Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, who congratulated him on his selection as Hong Kong’s next chief executive.
He also met with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Xi said Lee “loves the country and Hong Kong” and has “contributed in terms of protecting national security and protecting Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability.”
“You have the affirmation and the trust of the central government,” Xi said.
Xi said the “one country, two systems” framework under which Britain handed Hong Kong over to China in 1997 has been “universally recognized” as a success.
Critics say the framework, which provides Hong Kong with semi-autonomy and special freedoms for 50 years, is threatened by growing restrictions imposed by Beijing.
Lee thanked Xi for trusting him with the position and said he would do all that he can to live up to the expectations of Beijing and the Hong Kong people.
Premier Li also expressed full support for Lee and urged him to develop Hong Kong’s economy and improve the livelihoods of its people.
Lee’s visit to Beijing comes weeks after he won an uncontested election earlier this month, gaining over 99% of all votes cast by an election committee made up largely of pro-Beijing members.
It is customary for the chief executive-elect to visit Beijing after winning election to receive a letter of appointment from Beijing. Lee flew to Beijing on Saturday for a four-day visit.
Lee’s appointment comes during a continuing political crackdown in the city nearly three years after anti-government protests in 2019.
Critics say Beijing has tightened its grip over Hong Kong and rolled back freedoms with the imposition of a tough new national security law and changes to its electoral laws that shut out pro-democracy candidates from running for office.
Lee, a Beijing loyalist, is known for his support of the national security law, which outlaws subversion, secession, terrorism and foreign collusion to intervene in the city’s affairs. Over 150 people have been arrested under the law since it came into effect in June 2020.
Prior to winning the election, Lee was the city’s No. 2 official. He spent most of his civil service career in the police force and later in the security bureau.
Lee is expected to be sworn in as Hong Kong’s new chief executive on July 1, the 25th anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover to China.