Three key priorities for Hong Kong's new leader John Lee

Hong Kong's leader-in-waiting John Lee speaks to the media at the central government headquarters in Hong Kong on June 19, 2022. - AFP

HONG KONG (The Straits Times/Asia News Network): John Lee, Hong Kong's former security chief, will be sworn in as Chief Executive on Friday (July 1), as the city marks 25 years of Chinese rule.

Here are three areas of priority for Lee, who takes over the reins from Carrie Lam.

1. Housing crisis, high living costs

Hong Kong is among the world's most expensive cities to live in, and is also the least affordable place to buy a home.

Private home prices have risen more than 130 per cent since 1997, and the average wait for public housing is more than six years. Four per cent of the 7.4 million population live in cramped subdivided flats.

While tinned fish, a local pantry staple, costs about six times more today than it did in 1997, median monthly wages have gone up less than 70 per cent in the same period. One in four people are considered to be living in poverty.

The city's housing crisis and surging costs of living have contributed to widening inequality and are a source of deep public unhappiness.

2. Damaged world status

Hong Kong's status as a global financial hub has taken a hit from the 2019 social unrest, the ensuing crackdowns and imposition of the national security law, as well as stringent Covid-19 restrictions that shut the city from the rest of the world.

The population fell 1.2 per cent in 2020 and 0.3 per cent last year amid a mass exodus of people.

A recent poll found that 60 per cent of Hong Kong youth would leave the city if they could.

The economy shrank 4 per cent in the first quarter from a year earlier. The jobless rate surged to a one-year high of 5.4 per cent in the period from February to April.

3. Gaping social rifts

The massive and often violent pro-democracy protests of 2019 and its aftermath exposed and exacerbated deep rifts in Hong Kong society, leaving its people more divided than ever.

A young, idealistic generation raised on liberal Western views see themselves as up against a conservative, business-minded older generation willing to compromise their values and freedoms in exchange for peace and stability.

While the protests have been quelled by the pandemic, a simmering resentment remains.

It will be an uphill task for Hong Kong's new leader John Lee - most remembered for his role in pushing for the extradition Bill that sparked the protests and who led the ensuing clampdown on it - to try to mend the social fabric.

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