Hong Kong’s next leader promises restart but no Covid zero exit timetable

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Hong Kong (AFP) – Hong Kong’s next leader unveiled a manifesto on Friday pledging to restore the business hub to its former glory, but would not be drawn to any time the city could abandon zero-Covid checks that have left it cut off at the international level.

John Lee, a former senior police official and security chief, is set to be named 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 rocked by huge pro-democracy protests, a continued crackdown on political freedoms and more than two years of battling the pandemic that has isolated residents and businesses internationally .

“Covid is not going to live with us forever, at some point it will be under control,” Lee told reporters when asked when Hong Kong would reopen to the world.

“It’s important that we do a good balancing act,” he added.

China is the only major economy that still sticks to the zero-tolerance strategy, even as the highly transmissible variant of Omicron breaks down those defenses and imposes painful restrictions on both Hong Kong and the mainland.

Hong Kong is on the tail end of a deadly wave of Omicron, killing some 9,000 residents and causing an exodus of the city’s business community.

Lee said on Friday his 44-page manifesto will guide his bid to restore Hong Kong’s luster when he takes over from outgoing leader Carrie Lam on July 1 – the 25th anniversary of the city’s handover to China by Great Britain. -Brittany.

But despite campaigning with the slogan “Starting a new chapter for Hong Kong together,” Lee’s policies so far indicate minimal change from the current course led by Beijing under Lam’s administration.

Lee, 64, was a key figure in the crackdown on huge democratic protests and is among 11 senior Hong Kong and Beijing officials sanctioned by the United States.

He promised on Friday that a host of new national security crimes would be banned in local law, bolstering the already sweeping law imposed by Beijing on Hong Kong in 2020 and designed to stifle dissent.

Efforts to “train a new generation that loves the country and Hong Kong” will continue, he added.

Like other chief executives since the transfer, Lee identified the chronic shortage of affordable housing as a key area his administration needed to address.

Hong Kong has long held the title of the world’s most unaffordable housing market, where a study this year showed the median house price to be 23 times the median household income.

“After all the great debates over land use, it’s time to act,” Lee said, promising to build more homes as well as speed up and streamline land sales.

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