China promotes security chief to No.2 spot in Hong Kong

China on Friday promoted Hong Kong’s top security official to the territory’s No. 2 spot as Beijing looks to the administration of the Asian financial hub to clamp down on free speech and political opposition.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam said Secretary for Security John Lee would replace Matthew Cheung as the city’s chief secretary, while police chief Chris Tang would take over Lee’s role. Raymond Siu Chak-yee, Tang’s deputy, will take over as head of the police force.

Hong Kong’s government has long been lauded for its professionalism and efficiency, but its image has been battered in recent years by its response to protests for greater democracy and its enforcement of Beijing’s security policies. The U.S. and other Western democracies have imposed visa bans and other sanctions on Lam, Lee and other members of the administration.

Violent clashes between police and pro-democracy demonstrators in 2019 prompted the central government to adopt a firm line against political concessions, a policy seen through by Lam, Lee, Tang and Siu, who made restoring public order their top priority.

“They have had distinguished performance in the government over the years and possess proven leadership skills,” Lam said of those promoted. “I am confident that they are competent for their new posts and would rise to the challenges in serving the community.”

Cheung, the former No. 2, will be retiring from government service.

The leadership changes come a year after Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law on the former British colony and one day after Hong Kong’s last remaining pro-democracy newspaper, the Apple Daily, published its final edition

Police froze $2.3 million of the paper’s assets, searched its office and arrested five top editors and executives last week, accusing them of foreign collusion to endanger national security. It’s founder, Jimmy Lai, is facing charges under the national security law for foreign collusion and is currently serving a prison sentence for his involvement in a 2019 pro-democracy protest movement.

Beijing promised Hong Kong could maintain its civil liberties for 50 years after the former British colony was handed over to Chinese rule in 1997, but has essentially abandoned that commitment to impose total political control and end what it sees as undue foreign influence on the semi-autonomous city’s institutions.

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