HONG KONG — Hong Kong Chief Secretary John Lee, a security official during the global financial hub’s prolonged and often violent 2019 pro-democracy protests, said on Wednesday he had resigned in a bid to run in an election in May to become the city’s new leader.
Lee, 64, a former deputy commissioner of police, was promoted to the Chinese territory’s No. 2 role in 2021 in a move that some political analysts said signaled Beijing’s priorities for Hong Kong were security rather than the economy.
“I indicate in the letter the reason for my resignation is that if my resignation is approved by the Central People’s Government, I shall plan to prepare to stand for the upcoming chief executive election,” Lee said at a news conference.
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He is the first government official to announce a bid for the top job, with media reporting that he will be the only candidate in the chief executive election due to take place on May 8.
Lee was among other senior Hong Kong and Chinese officials sanctioned by the United States in 2020 for what Washington described as their role in curbing Hong Kong’s freedoms under a sweeping national security law imposed on the city by Beijing.
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.
Previous chief executives had extensive economic and social policy-making expertise, and Lee was the first security official to lead the city in his role as chief secretary. Lee’s promotion to the city’s No. 2 position saw police chief Chris Tang take the security secretary post previously occupied by Lee.
His bid for the city’s top political post is a sign of the growing power security officials’ growing power in the former British colony after faithfully implementing Beijing’s new laws. If successful, Lee would be the first person with a security background to lead Hong Kong since it returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
Lee’s announcement comes two days after incumbent Chief Executive Carrie Lam said she would not seek a second five-year term, after presiding over one of the most tumultuous periods in Hong Kong’s history.