Hong Kong's next leader vows reboot but no zero-Covid exit timeline
Hong Kong's next leader unveiled a manifesto Friday vowing to restore the business hub to its former glory but would not be drawn on when the city might discard zero-Covid controls that have left it internationally cut off.
John Lee, a former top cop and security chief, is expected to be appointed Hong Kong's new chief executive by a committee of some 1,500 Beijing loyalists on May 8.
He faces no competition but will inherit a city convulsed by huge democracy protests, an ongoing crackdown on political freedoms and more than two years of pandemic curbs that have left residents and businesses internationally isolated.
"Covid is not going to live with us forever, at some stage it will be under control," Lee told reporters when asked when Hong Kong would reopen to the world.
"It is important we will do a good balancing act," he added.
China is the only major economy still sticking to the zero-tolerance strategy even as the highly transmissible Omicron variant breaks through those defences and forces painful restrictions in both Hong Kong and on the mainland.
Hong Kong is at the tail end of a deadly Omicron wave, killing some 9,000 residents and sparking an exodus from the city's business community.
Lee said Friday his 44-page manifesto will guide his attempt to restore Hong Kong's sheen when he takes over from outgoing leader Carrie Lam on July 1 -- the 25th anniversary of the city's handover to China by Britain.
But despite fronting a campaign with the slogan "Starting a new chapter for Hong Kong together", Lee's policies so far indicate minimal change from the current Beijing-directed course under Lam's administration.
Lee, 64, was a key figure in the suppression of huge democracy protests and is among 11 top Hong Kong and Beijing officials sanctioned by the United States.
He vowed Friday that a host of new national security crimes will be outlawed in local legislation, bolstering the already sweeping law Beijing imposed on Hong Kong in 2020 designed to quash dissent.
Efforts to "cultivate a new generation that loves the country and Hong Kong" will continue, he added.
Like other chief executives since the handover, Lee pinpointed the chronic shortage of affordable housing as a key area his administration needed to tackle.
Hong Kong has long held the title of the world's most unaffordable housing market, where a study this year showed the median property price is 23 times the median household income.
"After all the big debates on land use, it's time for execution," Lee said, vowing to build more housing as well as speed up and streamline land sales.
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