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Western Multinationals Congratulate Hong Kong’s New Leader

Chief Executive-elect John Lee attends a press conference in Hong Kong, May 9, 2022. Lee was elected as the city’s next leader on May 9, 2022, in a vote cast by a largely pro-Beijing committee.

Western multinationals and local tycoons published newspaper advertisements on Monday congratulating John Lee on becoming Hong Kong’s next leader, following a rubber-stamp selection process condemned by critics as anti-democratic.

Lee, 64, a former security chief who oversaw the crackdown on Hong Kong’s democracy movement, was anointed the business hub’s new leader on Sunday in a near unanimous vote by a small committee of Beijing loyalists

He was the sole candidate in the Beijing-backed race to succeed outgoing leader Carrie Lam at a time when Hong Kong is being remolded in China's authoritarian image.

Ta Kung Pao and Wen Wei Po, two newspapers that answer to the office which sets Beijing’s Hong Kong policy, were filled with advertisements on Monday from leading companies and business figures praising Lee's selection.

The majority were from Chinese and Hong Kong businesses as well as community organizations.

The “Big Four” accounting firms — KPMG, Deloitte, EY and PwC — were among western multinationals placing advertisements, as were city carrier Cathay Pacific and conglomerates Swire and Jardine Matheson.

Messages were also carried by Hong Kong’s family tycoon-dominated property giants including Sun Hung Kai and Henderson Land Development.

Western businesses have found themselves in an increasingly precarious position in Hong Kong, especially as geopolitical tensions have risen with China.

Many have embraced progressive political causes in western markets, such as the anti-racism Black Lives Matter movement, same sex equality and ridding supply chains of labour abuses.

But they usually steer clear of any criticism of China’s policies towards hotspots like Hong Kong, Xinjiang, Tibet and Taiwan.

Some companies such as HSBC, Standard Chartered, Swire and Jardine Matheson publicly backed Beijing’s national security law, which was imposed on Hong Kong after 2019's democracy protests to curb dissent.

Despite the city’s mini-constitution promising universal suffrage, Hong Kong has never been a democracy, the source of years of protests since the 1997 handover to China.

After the 2019 rallies, Beijing responded with a crackdown and a new “patriots only” political vetting system that eradicated the city's once outspoken political opposition.

Lee faced no rivals and won 99% of the votes cast by the 1,461-strong committee that picks the city’s leader — roughly 0.02% of the city’s population.

Beijing hailed the process as”"a real demonstration of democratic spirit.”

European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell countered that the selection process was a “violation of democratic principles and political pluralism.”