Soft-spoken Lee turns emboldened warrior

Editorial | Mary Ma 9 Jul 2020

Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu acted like a different person, no longer the normally low-energy pik-ka-chiu - as he's infamously labeled in view of his usually slow-speaking, non-confrontational character - during an exchange with lawmakers in the legislature a day ago.

Instead, he scoffed - albeit less than humorously - that a statement by Civic Party lawmaker Kwok Ka-ki was "worse than foul language."

And he jeered, "that's what we want" when Democratic Party lawmaker Ted Hui Chi-fung was forced to retract a verbal attack.

Lee's remarks were tit-for-tat responses to Kwok's criticism of Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor's claim that the national security law protected human rights as "more offending than foul language" and Hui's attack that Justice Secretary Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah was a "shame."

Suddenly, Lee became a warrior rather than his normal low-energy self. Why the abrupt change?

As he hit out - leaving Kwok dumbfounded and Hui speechless for a few lengthy seconds - his verbal onslaughts could well have been more than mere gestures.

Perhaps, Lee - as well as some of his colleagues in the administration, including Cheng who was sitting next to him - simply felt he'd had enough of all the insults and verbal ridicule both inside and outside the Legislative Council chamber over the years.

It can't be pleasant to sit in Legco and listen to criticisms day in, day out. But it was also Lee's choice, as well as his colleagues', to sit in the chamber to hear "nonsense" from a group of people for whom he had no respect.

He and other policymaking officials may all be feeling a sense of helplessness because Legco is a route they must go through.

While a low profile was preferred in the past, officials then knew it was not wise to antagonize lawmakers politically.

That's on the personal level - but I think it could be more than that this time.

Lee's transformation from low-energy man to warrior may also be a signal of a new page for an administration that has been a political underdog daunted by a popularity that could not have been lower.

The about-turn was in line with Beijing's tough stance on Hong Kong and the West. Emboldened by the all-powerful security law and Beijing's pursuit of a hard-line foreign policy, the SAR has to be seen to be moving at a pace parallel to that of Beijing.

Therefore, the accommodating era is over, replaced by a new political approach that will be confrontational in face of opposition from within and outside the SAR.

This is only the beginning.

Have you noticed that Cheng, the less-than-articulate justice secretary, has been trying to speak up more readily than before?

Still, it takes awhile for a vessel to completely turn around. Before Cheng could respond to Hui's mocking that it was shameful of her to defend the security law and its subsidiary rules, Lee took the mic to accuse Hui of breaching Legco's rules of procedure.

It seems that Cheng has yet to accustom herself to the new game play.

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