OPINION – An Analysis of John Lee’s Ministers and Advisers

Judging from the appointment of Chief Executive-designate John Lee’s ministers and advisers, the new Hong Kong government’s beginning from July 1 will be characterized by a unique model of renewing a representative governing coalition, relying on security-oriented chief officials, retaining career bureaucrats in policy portfolios, and utilizing the rich experience of Executive Council (ExCo) members.

On June 19, the State Council approved the appointment of twenty-six principal officials, including the secretaries of fifteen bureaus and six secretaries and undersecretaries in the three key positions: Chief Secretary for Administration, Secretary for Justice, and Financial Secretary. The Chief Secretary is filled by Eric Chan, a former director of the Chief Executive’s Office, and his Undersecretary for Administration is the former permanent secretary for innovation and technology Cheuk Wing-hing. The Secretary for Justice is former Bar Association chair Paul Lam Ting-kwok and his undersecretary is Horace Cheung Kwok-kwan, a former vice-chair of the Democratic Alliance for Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB). Cheung withdrew from the DAB immediately after the appointment was approved by the State Council. Financial Secretary Paul Chan remains in the same position and his new undersecretary is the former Development Secretary Michael Wong Wai-lun.

The fifteen policy secretaries are as follows: Secretary for Food and Health Lo Chung-mau (former chief executive of the University of Hong Kong-Shenzhen Hospital); Secretary for Innovation and Technology Professor Sun Dong; Secretary for Home and Youth Affairs Alice Mak Mei-kuen (former vice-chairperson of the Federation of Trade Unions); Secretary for Development Bernadette Linn Hon-ho (former permanent secretary of development); Secretary for Civil Service Ingrid Yeung Ho Poi-yan (former permanent secretary for civil service); Secretary for Environment and Ecology Tse Chin-wan (former undersecretary for environment bureau); Secretary for Education Choi Yuk-lin (former undersecretary for education); Secretary for Housing Winnie Ho Wing-yin (former director of architectural services); Secretary for Transport and Logistics Lam Sai-hung (former permanent secretary for development); Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Algernon Yau Ying-wah (former chief executive officer of Greater Bay Airlines); Secretary for Labour and Welfare Chris Sun Yuk-han (former commissioner for labour); Secretary for Culture, Sports and Tourism Kevin Yeung Yun-hung (former secretary for education); Secretary for Security Chris Tang Tang Ping-keung; Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Erick Tsang Kwok-wai; and Secretary for Financial Services Christopher Hui Ching-yu. 

(220623) — HONG KONG, June 23, 2022 (Xinhua) — A sailboat with celebratory posters marking the 25th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to the motherland sails at the Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong, south China, June 23, 2022. July 1 this year marks the 25th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to the motherland. (Xinhua/Lo Ping Fai)

Chris Tang will remain in the same position as the last phase of the Carrie Lam government – a sign obviously pointing to the important tasks of legislating on Article 23 of the Basic Law and preparing the Internet Security Law. Erick Tsang and Christopher Hui remain in their positions to provide some degrees of administrative and personnel continuities.

Continuity is the key feature of the new line-up of secretaries and undersecretaries. Five former senior and career civil servants – Bernadette Linn, Ingrid Yeung, Winnie Ho, Lam Sai-ho, Chris Sun – were promoted as principal officials and this pattern demonstrated the continuing importance of senior bureaucrats.

It is noteworthy that Professor Sun Dong from City University has been recruited into the new government to deal with the development of information technology. Sun was born in the mainland and educated in both Hong Kong and Canada. He was elected to the LegCo through the Election Committee in December 2021. His appointment was regarded by the local media as a “new Hongkonger” recruited into the new administration. From another perspective, Sun will likely play a key role in spearheading the development of information technology in Hong Kong’s closer economic integration with the Greater Bay Area (GBA).

It is interesting to note that Algernon Yau, the former chief executive officer of the Greater Bay Airlines, was appointed as Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development – a move implying that while commerce and economic development is going to be driven by a former private-sector executive, Hong Kong’s economic integration into the GBA is going to be a policy priority once Covid-19 will gradually fade away in the coming years.

(220621) — HONG KONG, June 21, 2022 (Xinhua) — John Lee, the incoming sixth-term chief executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR), speaks during an interview in South China’s Hong Kong on June 7, 2022. TO GO WITH “Interview: Incoming HKSAR chief executive John Lee vows to build caring, inclusive Hong Kong” (Xinhua/Jin Liangkuai)

Some local media have highlighted the considerable number of security officials in the John Lee administration. Eight of the 26 principal officials have security-related background: Eric Chan as the former director of immigration, Chris Tang as former police commissioner, Erick Tsang as former director of immigration, Cheung Wing-hing as a former police inspector for three years from 1981 to 1984, Louise Ho Pui-shan as the Commissioner of the Customs and Excise Department, Raymond Siu Chak-yee as the Police Commissioner, Au Ka-wang as the Director of the Immigration Department, and Woo Ying-ming as a former director of Correctional Services Department will become the Commissioner for the Independent Commission Against Corruption. If Chief Executive John Lee is included into the calculation of the new Hong Kong government, nine of the top twenty-seven officials or one-third of them have security background either in the past or the present – an arrangement that will certainly safeguard the central government’s top concern about its national security over Hong Kong.

However, it remains to be seen whether the appointment of Alice Mak as the Secretary for Home and Youth Affairs will deal with her portfolio very effectively. According to news reports, Mak was critical of the way in which Chief Executive Carrie Lam managed the 2019 extradition bill controversy and she was politically outspoken. Her new tasks will embrace the important review of district administration, including whether appointed seats would be reinjected to the 18 District Councils, and how to win back the confidence of some young Hong Kong people. Winning the hearts and minds of the youth will be one of the key targets of the new Hong Kong administration. In this aspect, Mak’s work will be significant together with the portfolio of Choi Yuk-lin.

On June 22, John Lee’s ExCo members were announced. Sixteen ExCo members have been appointed, including nine members continuous from the Carrie Lam administration and seven new members. Regina Ip from the New People’s Party is going to be the convenor. As a legislator, she will likely provide a key bridge between the ExCo and the Legislative Council (LegCo). There are three members of the national committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), namely former Hang Seng Bank executive Margaret Leung Ko May-yee, former Secretary for Food and Health Ko Wing-man and solicitor Eliza Chan Ching-har. This arrangement means that CPPCC’s core Hong Kong members will play a crucial role in advising the government, while the banking, health and legal expertise of Leung, Ko and Chan will be utilized.

Three LegCo members will join the new ExCo: Gary Chan Hak-kan from the DAB and he replaces Horace Cheung; Stanley Ng Chau-pei from the Federation of Trade Unions (FTU) and insurance lawmaker Chan Kin-por (who resigned from LegCo’s Finance Committee chair). 

Another new ExCo members include Moses Cheng Mo-chi, who formerly worked as the chair of Insurance Authority and who is now the council chair of the Hang Seng University. His legal and insurance knowledge will surely help the advisory body to the government.

Other reappointed members include former University of Hong Kong council chair Arthur Li Kwok-cheung, former Monetary Authority chief Joseph Yam Chi-kwong, senior counsel Ronny Tong, and paediatric doctor and chair of elderly and health affairs committee Lam Ching-choi. Clearly, some degrees of continuity are cherished by John Lee in his selection of close policy advisers.

Regina Ip, the new Executive Council Convenor

John Lee seeks to balance the representation of pro-government groups skilfully. Apart from Regina Ip of the New People’s Party, Lee retains Jeffrey Lam Kin-fung of the Business and Professionals Alliance, Tommy Cheung Yu-yan from the Liberal Party, Kenneth Lau Ip-keung from the rural advisory group Heung Yee Kuk, and Martin Liao Cheung-kong who is a convenor of the pro-establishment camp. Together from Gary Chan of the DAB and Stanley Ng from the FTU, the representation of pro-government groups is fully protected.

The local media has pointed to the higher average age of sixty-six for John Lee’s ExCo compared with 62 percent for Carrie Lam’s ExCo and 58 percent for C. Y. Leung’s ExCo. The experience of advisers is of utmost importance to John Lee, who enhances the expertise of ExCo members in several policy areas such as public health, banking, and insurance. 

Overall, the line-up of the secretaries, undersecretaries and ExCo members of the new John Lee government display several prominent features. Security-related officials are going to play a key role in major positions, protecting the national security interests of both the central government in Beijing and the Hong Kong special administrative region. Career bureaucrats have been promoted upward to key policy portfolios as ministers, dispelling the myth that Administrative Officers are no longer politically important. ExCo members are experienced and distinguished people in the community and in various occupational sectors, providing the government with the best policy advise and inputs. The remaining challenges for the John Lee administration are to set the targets in his resulted-oriented governing philosophy and to achieve them with efficiency and effectiveness, tackling the contradictions in the society harmoniously and paving the way for the beginning of another 25 years of the “one country, two systems” in Hong Kong.