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Sensemaker: Lee way

Sensemaker: Lee way

What just happened

Long stories short

  • Sri Lanka’s prime minister resigned as escalating anti-government protests threatened to force out his younger brother, the president, as well (more below).
  • Sir Keir Starmer promised to step down as leader of the UK’s Labour Party if he is found to have broken Covid lockdown rules.
  • A libel case brought by Coleen Rooney against Rebekah Vardy, both partners of top-flight England footballers, was due to come to trial in the High Court in London.

Lee way

As Putin tries to snuff out democracy at one end of Eurasia with high explosives, Xi Jinping does it at the other by anointing an enforcer in a suit. 

China’s semi-autonomous territory of Hong Kong has a new leader. He got 99 per cent of the vote from a committee packed with pro-Beijing members. He was the only candidate. His name is John Lee, but who is he?

  • Lee, 64, spent more than three decades in the police force before rising to the rank of security minister in Carrie Lam’s government. Lee pushed for the extradition bill that would have sent Hong Kong suspects to mainland China and that, in 2019, triggered pro-democracy protests that rocked Lam’s government.
  • While the government eventually backtracked on the bill, Lee led a heavy police response to protestors that included the use of rubber bullets and tear gas, along with mass arrests. 
  • When Beijing imposed a national security law in May 2020 that outlawed secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign powers, Lee was its main supporter and enforcer. He used the law to silence pro-democracy protesters, opposition figures, and the media. “The democracy movement in Hong Kong was effectively crushed,” says Professor Minxin Pei, a China expert at Claremont McKenna College.
  • That same year, the US sanctioned Lee – along with Lam and other officials – “for being involved in coercing, arresting, detaining, or imprisoning individuals under the authority of the National Security Law.”

Patriot. Seven months after those sanctions were imposed, Lee was promoted to chief secretary of the city’s administration, becoming Lam’s deputy. He resigned in April to put himself forward as Lam’s successor. The election process was changed last year under pressure from Beijing so that only “patriots” are allowed to be candidates. It is more of an appointment by Beijing than an election.

“Lee’s appointment will most likely ensure that Beijing’s policy will be more faithfully and fully enforced,” says Pei. “Given his experience in security, his political masters definitely have the right person for the job.”

Priorities. So far Lee has prioritised security and reopening the Chinese border over reopening for business. Covid cases and deaths surged during Lam’s final months in power and Lee is determined to fall in line with the mainland’s zero Covid strategy. So what was Asia’s most vibrant business hub faces the cheerful prospect of

  • more lockdowns; and 
  • more crackdowns – Lee says he will enact a bill that would allow the city to prohibit “any act of treason, secession, sedition, subversion against the Central People’s Government” and, in a provision that will inhibit the work of journalists, to stop “theft of state secrets”.

One country, one system. Hong Kong was promised freedoms not enjoyed by mainland Chinese people when the British handed it over in 1997. Under Lee, it will become hard if not impossible to call the city semi-autonomous. Its civil liberties are shrinking. Its pro-democracy movement has been crushed. It is becoming China.


CAPITAL ECONOMY, BUSINESS AND FINANCE

Entrenched inflation
The Bank of England’s former chief economist, Andy Haldane, said inflation in the UK could rise above 10 per cent and remain a problem for the next two years. Haldane added that the Bank should have raised interest rates sooner, as the aggressive hikes expected over the coming months “could be very costly in economic terms”. His comments were echoed to some extent by a member of the Bank’s rate-setting monetary policy committee. While Michael Saunders expressed concern over energy prices hitting people on low incomes, he wants a rise in rates to short-circuit a process by which people expect inflation to rise, consume more now, driving prices higher, and so entrenching inflation.


CULTURE soCIETY, IDENTITY AND BELONGING

Sri Lankan crisis
Two numbers help explain the running battles that have paralysed Sri Lanka’s government and set many of MPs’ homes ablaze: 40,000 and 40 million. The first, in tonnes, is the country’s monthly requirement in liquified petroleum gas just to cook food for its 22 million people. The second, in US dollars, is what that costs at current prices. Which wouldn’t be a problem if Sri Lanka was rich, but it’s going bust. Forty million (in pounds sterling) is also a good estimate of its total available foreign currency reserves. Pending a hoped-for IMF bailout, prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned yesterday along with his entire cabinet, but mobs still burned down several homes belonging to the Rajapaksa family and MPs, after they were attacked by government supporters. Some tried to storm the PM’s official residence while he was still inside. He was flown out of Colombo to an undisclosed location this morning. Sri Lankans have emerged from Covid into an acute global energy shortage, exacerbated by war in Ukraine. That the Rajapaksas have turned government into a family business hasn’t helped.


TECHNOLOGY AI, SCIENCE AND NEW THINGS

Musk money
Elon Musk wants to more than quadruple Twitter’s revenue and user base by 2028, according to a leaked slide deck. The main ambitions are as follows: take annual revenue from $5 billion to $26.4 billion; go from 217 million users to 931 million; cut the percentage of revenue from advertising from 90 per cent to 50; and boost paid subscriptions to 159 million. The deck, first seen by the NYT, shows that Musk thinks he can generate financial growth at Twitter unlike anything it’s ever known. But he is known for making overly optimistic predictions and as the world’s richest person he doesn’t need more money. There are plenty of other explanations for his pursuit of Twitter. He could make it China-friendly to boost Tesla’s fortunes in his biggest market, or just use it as a megaphone for winding people up. 


The 100-year life health, education AND GOVERNMENT

Old Queen
The Queen will miss the UK’s State Opening of Parliament today for the first time in 59 years. She’s 96 and coping with “mobility problems”, Buckingham Palace says, so her son, Prince Charles, will read the Queen’s Speech in her stead. The speech sets out the government’s legislative plans and this year’s is unusually important. Boris Johnson is hoping the 38 bills it lists will distract attention from Partygate and his swooning poll numbers and persuade voters he still deserves to lead. The measures include a public order bill that would criminalise “locking on” protests like those used by Extinction Rebellion and Insulate Britain activists, and seven bills to encode in law the supposed benefits of Brexit. One would make it easier for courts to deport foreign nationals convicted of criminal offences in the UK. Another would lift an EU ban, in force since the 2008 crash, on insurance companies investing in renewables.  


Our planet CLIMATE AND geopolitics

Rising degrees
A half-degree difference in temperature might not sound much, but it’s worth paying attention when scientists led by the UK Met Office say a 1.5C temperature rise above pre-industrial levels is likely in the next five years. The planet is already about 1.1C warmer than in the mid-19th century, and the additional increase brings a greater risk of extreme weather, threatening human health, livelihoods and the existence of some countries. The 2015 Paris climate accord aimed to limit warming to below 2C with efforts to keep it below 1.5C, though this target refers to a long-term average so it would not be breached if temperatures exceeded 1.5C of warming in a single year. The Met Office says the chances they will do so at least once by 2027 are 50:50.

Thanks for reading. Please share this around and tell us what we’ve missed. News tips and story ideas are welcome. Email them to sensemaker@tortoisemedia.com.

Paul Caruana Galizia
@pcaruanagalizia

With additional reporting by Giles Whittell and Jeevan Vasagar.

Photographs Getty Images


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